Lexington’s spending priorities are misaligned: The urgent need to fund Housing First and related programs

By Paul Oliva

According to the most recent independent street survey, Lexington has approximately 2,410 homeless individuals, a number almost three times higher than the city’s most recent count of 815. These diverging figures highlight a systemic issue: the disconnection between Lexington’s spending choices and the reality faced by its most vulnerable citizens.

LEX18 investigative reporter Christiana Ford recently reported that in 2021, Lexington paid a contractor, Untold Content, a jaw-dropping $233,763 for an outreach campaign for a fund aimed to “permanently end homelessness.” Ironically, that fund, Lex End Homelessness, raised a mere $2,507.67 in the same period. The absurdity is undeniable: an astronomical sum spent on publicity while the actual fund designed to help the homeless received almost nothing.

This imbalance raises a critical question—why isn’t the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council prioritizing Housing First models and other direct services for the homeless?

Housing First is a proven approach that provides homeless individuals with immediate housing, without prerequisites like sobriety or employment. Studies have shown that this model not only successfully keeps people off the streets but also reduces public spending on emergency healthcare and law enforcement. Despite such evidence, Lexington’s investment in such programs is negligible compared to its other budgetary commitments.

Let’s consider what could have been done with just the $233,763 allocated to Untold Content or the $211,588.03 recently approved for construction of a new welcome sign. These funds could have provided at least a year’s worth of shelter for over 40 individuals based on the average cost of other Housing First programs. Furthermore, the money could have been channeled into addiction recovery services, mental health support, or emergency shelters—measures that directly impact lives.

Given that the city has the resources but lacks appropriate allocation, it’s crucial that we, as residents, demand a reassessment of the Urban County Council’s spending priorities. This should involve a transparent review of all contractual engagements, including any wasteful or ineffective agreements like the one with Untold Content.

Beyond this, there must be an immediate reallocation of discretionary funds towards Housing First and other direct homeless services. This isn’t just a call for more prudent spending but a plea for a more compassionate and sensible approach to governance.

The glaring disparity between the recent street survey numbers and the city’s own figures demonstrates a failure to understand the extent of the homelessness crisis. It’s a warning that cannot be ignored. Lexington must reprioritize its budget to serve the needs of all its residents, especially the most vulnerable among us. Until this happens, no amount of public relations or city beautification will mask the truth—that we’ve failed those who need us the most.

The time for real change is now. A city’s greatness is measured not by its skyline or welcome signs, but by how it treats its most vulnerable residents. Let’s demand that our elected officials allocate resources where they’re critically needed—to Housing First initiatives and direct homeless services. Because in a city as resource-rich as Lexington, there should be no excuse for not having enough to go around.

Top photo by The Lexington Times