COVINGTON - A rundown building near a methadone clinic -- and not a former strip club, as was previously proposed -- has emerged as the latest site that’s being considered as the new location for a homeless shelter in Covington.
The building at 24 Shaler St. is now occupied by Jess ‘N’ Sons Towing and is also the police impounding lot for vehicles that have been towed off of city streets because they were parked illegally or abandoned by their owners.
The metal-sided building that has a fenced in parking lot is about a block west of Madison Avenue, the city’s primary north-south artery, and almost directly behind the AutoZone store at 1721 Madison St.
It’s also a half block from the Life Learning Center, a non-profit that provides a long list of services for what it describes as “at risk” adults in a building that had been the headquarters of the Stewart Iron Works. A methadone clinic for those who are combating drug addiction is located in what had been a discount grocery store just across an alley that runs along the Life Learning Center.
Two other proposed locations – one at Eighth and Scott streets where a strip club is located – and a site at Martin and Madison streets are no longer being considered because of opposition from the owners of property near those sites.
Both of those sites have high visibility while the Jess ‘N’ Sons' property is tucked back alongside the CSX railroad tracks at the western edge of the Austinburg neighborhood.
One of the persistent problems with the cold shelter has been the long line of homeless people who gather outside waiting for the shelter to open every evening. That cluster of homeless folks doesn’t help a city that’s trying to rebuild its Downtown and change its image, city officials have said in private conversations.
The Northern Kentucky Emergency Shelter is the perfect example of a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) project that people are willing to support – but only from a distance.
“I guess I’m always fearful of screwing up a solution to a problem before it’s all finalized,” said Kenton County Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann, who acknowledged that the Jess ‘N’ Sons location is being considered although there have been no discussions with the property owners.
Knochelmann said the fact that the site is not centrally located in downtown Covington is the only drawback that he’s heard about. Covington Commissioner Chuck Eilerman said emergency center staffers have said they want the facility near the center of Downtown so it’s easily accessible to pedestrians.
Kenton County owns the shelter, which is located at 634 Scott St., and has an agreement to sell the building for $300,000 to Gateway Community and Technical College, which has long-range plans to build a science center on a tract that it has assembled on Scott between Sixth and Seventh streets as part of its “Urban Campus.”
The emergency shelter, which is busiest during the cold winter months, will continue to operate at its current location through this winter without any interruption in its services, Knochelmann said. “No one is trying to shove anyone out,” he said.
The shelter operates from 6 in the evening until 9 in the morning and has the capacity to handle about 70 people. It opens as a cold shelter every Nov. 1 and operates until temperatures warm up in the spring.
The shelter also has a warm-weather program that is designed to get homeless people off of the street and into permanent housing. About 30 people take advantage of that program every night when the weather is warmer.
Kim M. Webb, executive director of the center, opted not to answer questions about the Jess ‘N’ Sons site and e-mailed this comment: "The Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky is currently considering several alternative sites in Covington for a new shelter that will continue our important mission, which is life-saving in the winter and life-changing in the summer. At this point in time, the ESNKY board has not made any decision regarding the location of a new shelter."
Earlier this year, board president John Carey said the organization has raised about $1.2 million for a new building.
Covington Commissioner Jordan Huizenga said the city is searching for another location for Jess ‘N’ Sons inside the city. Before moving to its current location in a building that stretches between 18th and Shaler streets, the business had been located on what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near the northbound exit ramp from I-71/I75.
Eilerman said one of the sites that’s under consideration for the towing company is property along Donaldson Avenue, which parallels the railroad tracks. The site is just a few blocks from the current location for Jess ‘N’ Sons.