COVINGTON, Ky. — According the the U.S. Census Bureau, the national poverty rate for 2018 sat at 11.8 percent. In Covington, the poverty rate is 25 percent. Just down the road, in Newport, it's even higher, at 33 percent.
Despite these high rates, all four homeless shelters in the area are located in Covington, and could be at risk of closure.
A draft ordinance, if passed, would put stricter regulations on Covington shelters, in an effort to make them better. However, the regulations could actually result in the shelters being forced to close if they can't fully comply. It's a catch-22 scenario that's troubling many officials in the city.
However, a major root that impacts the rate of people experiencing homelessness is the amount of poverty in the area. With such high percentages of poverty in and near Covington, experts believe it's going to take a regional approach to begin to chip away at the problem's core.
"We are seeing some communities that are completely being left behind," said Catrena Bowman-Thomas, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission, a nonprofit working to serve those living in poverty in the area.
"We need to look at this as a city and as a region to say, 'How are we addressing our most vulnerable population?'" she said.
Overall, there has been an encouraging improvement in the poverty rate of Kentucky overall, but specific regions and areas are still lagging far behind.
"So we know that the efforts that we're putting in place, the programming that we have in place are having some effects on that," said Bowman-Thomas.
But with ordinances like the homeless shelter restrictions hovering over the heads of Covington's most vulnerable, it's clear that the future of this climb is a steep one.
In a statement, the city of Covington underscored the efforts its taking, stating, "Poverty is a complex regional issue that is being addressed on a variety of levels and by a wide variety of partners in Covington."
Bowman-Thomas said she hopes the criticism leads to more conversation, sparking a more collaborative approach to addressing poverty in the Northern Kentucky region.
"If the judges, if the mayors, if they all come to the table, I know we'll all be able to find a solution," she said. "I think we just need to sit down and really have a concentrated effort to look at what resources."
Covington leaders have said the homeless shelter restriction ordinance is only a draft at this point, and they're making a lot of changes based on feedback.