Homelessness continues to be a growing concern in the community, and the issue may be more visible than ever due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Two months ago, we reported that state education data shows that more than 200 students were reported as homeless at some point last school year.
At Thursday night’s Jamestown City Council meeting, County Attorney Kevin Shearer presented the council with the beginning step toward a plan that hopes to address homelessness in the community moving forward.
And while Shearer said it isn’t a big step, it’s a step nonetheless.
“I think if you all will get on board with this, along with the City of Russell Springs, and the county, it’s a good step in the right direction,” Shearer said.
That beginning step is an interlocal agreement between the City of Jamestown, City of Russell Springs, and the county. The agreement provides a framework of procedures for local law enforcement when they are notified of a homeless individual.
The agreement came about following a conversation between Shearer and County Judge Executive Gary Robertson, Shearer said, in hopes of addressing concerns from local officials, law enforcement, and community members.
“Through this interlocal agreement, we are beginning the process of taking the first steps to hopefully address this,” Shearer said. “One of the first steps is to help out the boots on the ground, those officers who frequently deal with the transient and homelessness issue.”
A meeting between Shearer, Russell Springs Interim Police Chief Melissa Taylor, Jamestown Police Chief Jeff Kerns, and Russell County Sheriff Derek Polston occurred, which led to the idea of each city, along with the county, placing $1,500 annually into the agreement.
The agreement provides that if a law enforcement officer encounters someone who is transient or homeless with nowhere to go, that individual will be transported to The Springs Motel, where they will be able to stay for two or fewer nights. Shearer estimated that there could be about 100 stays from this agreement.
“That’s just the start,” Shearer said. “That just helps get these individuals somewhere to go and makes it to where our officers don’t have to spend half the night trying to find a location for them, so that they’re able to do other things.”
The agreement doesn’t stop there though. Shearer added that they’re working with the Lake Cumberland Area Development District to help with the issue as well. The plan is for LCADD representatives to contact the individuals the next day to provide them with resources that are available. That may include finding the individual a more permanent living situation.
Of course, there aren’t a lot of options for homeless or transient housing within the county, so Shearer said that would likely include cities such as Bowling Green and other larger cities with more housing resources.
“By doing this, we can address it on a county and city level instead of just leaving it to law enforcement,” Shearer said. “We wanted to at least get an initial protocol that everybody can hopefully follow and would alleviate some of the law enforcement issues.”
But Shearer reiterated that this isn’t the whole solution to the problem. It’s just a start. The plan will be revisited in about six months to see how effective it is and what can be changed.
Jamestown City Councilman Tony Wright raised the question about providing food for those individuals. Shearer said that they will be issued some type of card, not cash, that could be used at a local fast food restaurant. He also added that the LCADD representatives could also possibly provide these individuals with other food vouchers.
City Councilwoman Regena Hinton asked Shearer what will happen to these individuals following their maximum two-night stay. Shearer said the goal is to have a living situation arranged before those two nights are over. That could be a longer-term stay somewhere in the county if that presents itself as an option or another county.
Shearer said the time is now for both cities and the county to begin thinking about how to address the issue of homelessness in a more comprehensive way.
“I think it’s something, frankly, that both cities and the county need to be thinking about,” Shearer said. “It’s not only not going to go away, but it’s only going to get bigger, and we’ve seen during this pandemic, it’s only going to get worse and worse.”
“One of the things I would ask of the cities, and I’ll be asking the county to do the same with the magistrates, I think we’ve got to develop a plan for this,” Shearer added. “At some point, we have to begin to think outside our box and see what other places our size are doing to address the issue.”
Jamestown Mayor Nick Shearer said homelessness has been a concern in Jamestown for a while, but he’s hopeful that this is the beginning of a plan to begin addressing the issue on a more comprehensive level.
“We’ve been tackling this issue for a little bit, and it’s not just here, it’s from California to the east coast,” Mayor Shearer said. “This is a step in the right direction and one of a lot of steps to be able to combat this. We’ve gotta start somewhere, and I think this is the right step. We have to start somewhere to get somewhere.”
“I’m hopeful,” Mayor Shearer added. “You know, we can’t all pull ourselves up by our boot straps. Some of us need more help than others, and that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to help, but they have to want to help themselves also.”