By Ending Free Food, Lexington Hopes to Remove Homeless From Downtown Park

Jun 27, 2013

A refurbished Phoenix Park in downtown Lexington should complete by this time next week, just in time for Independence Day.   Now, the city hopes to reduce the number of homeless residents who gather there.

Downtown Lexington's Phoenix Park is a gathering place for homeless Kentuckians, even during winter weather.

Phoenix Park has long been a daytime gathering spot for Lexington’s homeless.  As a result, Faith-based organizations often bring meals to the park.  Now, General Services Commissioner Geoff Reed has asked church representatives to feed the hungry someplace else.

“All they ask is that it benefits people, at least as much as it benefits them now.  If we can find something that benefits them more, I don’t think folks are wed to doing this in Phoenix Park,” said Reed.

Council member Peggy Henson said it would be nice to have another location indoors which is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  Council member Kevin Stinnett says the aim is to find some middle ground that meets the needs of the homeless and the park’s other users.

“We don’t want to turn this into a police state down there by any means.  But, this is not a unique issue that we have at this park as we do at every other park in terms of safety.  I appreciate what the faith based community is trying to do, cause they’re providing a much needed service that we need to see continued and make sure it’s being continued to the people who really need it,” said Stinnett.

Meanwhile, city leaders are still digesting a report released earlier this year by the Lexington Commission on Homelessness.   Little action has resulted so far, but Council member Steve Kay, who chaired the Commission, looks for some firmer decisions within a few months.

“The Commission on Homelessness made its recommendations.  The mayor’s committed to developing further the plans that we will need and hopefully in the fall we’ll have a chance to look at those recommendations and to make some hard decisions about what we want to do as a government to address this question in a systemic way,” explained Kay.

A key recommendation calls for the establishment of an affordable housing trust fund.  The fund would provide low-cost loans to developers and homebuyers. It could be funded with an increase in the city tax on insurance premiums.