Lexington’s Unsheltered Crisis: One councilmember’s call for dignity and action

LEXINGTON, KY – On Thursday, Councilmember Tayna Fogle met with a local reporter at Third Street Stuff off North Limestone. The meeting, however, took an unexpected turn when Brenda Garr, a 61-year-old Lexington native, approached her. Garr, who had recently lost her housing, shared her story of eviction after falling behind on rent payments for her Short Street room. Despite her challenges, Garr did not exhibit signs of substance abuse or mental health issues. She told Fogle she had recently lost her job and fell eight months behind on her $550 per month rent. Her landlord “worked with” her for a while, but finally evicted her Monday.

Fogle, in her attempt to assist Garr, reached out to multiple city and agency employees, including city housing commissioner Charlie Lanter. The aim was to connect Garr with a place to stay for the night. Despite the city having hotel vouchers from federal ARPA (COVID-19 pandemic relief) funds, outreach and connecting people in need has been a challenge, Fogle says. Eventually, Ginny Ramsey, the director of the Catholic Action Center, answered Fogle’s calls and offered Garr a place at their shelter, contingent upon a negative COVID test.

Brenda Garr, 61, grew up in Lexington’s East End. She is currently unhoused after being evicted from her room on Monday. (The Lexington Times)

Garr’s story is not unique. Many in Lexington face similar challenges, struggling to find assistance and navigate the complex web of agencies and programs. Garr expressed her frustration, stating, “You call and go there, no one will help.” She had previously sought assistance from the Housing Stabilization Program but had exhausted her allotted aid.

Councilmember Fogle, who is affiliated with the Poor People’s Campaign and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, is passionate about addressing poverty. The campaign’s current issue, titled ‘Poverty = Death’, highlights the profound impact of poverty on individuals’ health.

In a prior phone interview, Fogle discussed the ongoing challenges faced by the unhoused community in Lexington. She emphasized the need for more proactive measures and criticized the city’s response. In an amendment to Lexington’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget, Fogle introduced the concept of the “Dignity Station,” a mobile facility offering showers, laundry services, and restrooms. The aim is to restore a sense of dignity to those without shelter.

Fogle also expressed frustration at the lack of action and collaboration among various agencies in distributing hotel vouchers to people experiencing homelessness, despite having funds available. She says the situation is dire, with a looming deadline for the utilization of the remaining federal ARPA funds allocated to the program and a risk of losing this aid if not used. Fogle’s proposal to increase the voucher program’s utilization includes leveraging more local organizations like the Hope Center, Lexington Rescue Mission, and Salvation Army to facilitate outreach.

The issue of homelessness and lack of shelter is not confined to one district. As Fogle rightly points out, it’s a city-wide concern that requires collective action. The call is clear: it’s time for Lexington to step up, collaborate, and offer tangible solutions for its residents in need.

An unhoused person’s belongings sit in a shopping cart outside a Starbucks in South Lexington. (The Lexington Times)

Top photo: Councilmember Tayna Fogle leaves a voicemail message with city housing commissioner Charlie Lanter while seeking housing assistance for a resident in need. (The Lexington Times)