As much of Louisville remains under a layer of ice and with another winter storm on the way, the city is doing nothing to keep alive its homeless population, several advocates contended Saturday evening.
Leaders from local homeless outreach organizations spoke in front of Hotel Louisville Saturday night, demanding city leaders address what they called a humanitarian crisis.
Donny Greene, co-founder of Feed Louisville, said the city has given excuses for not helping people left outside in the below-freezing temperatures, contending there is no shelter space available.
“The truth of the matter is the city is currently housing homeless people … in hotels in the city, and they have the ability to do that for everyone,” Greene said. “Housing is a basic human right. No one deserves to freeze to death out here.”
But officials contend the city’s shelters aren’t even full, so there’s no need to resort to hotels at this time.
The Louisville area saw snow, ice, sleet and rain this week, and meteorologists are predicting even more wintry precipitation starting Sunday evening.
Operation White Flag, which opens up shelters to more people experiencing homelessness when the temperature or wind chill is below 35 degrees, remains in effect, Mayor Greg Fischer’s office said Thursday.
Greene accused city leaders of using the lack of shelter space as an excuse for not housing people in need even though there is available space at hotels and apartments.
“The city as a whole has made it a policy that they will allow people to die out here, and people will die,” Greene said, adding that he’s already seen people with frostbite.
Fischer said Sunday the dropping temperatures and snow expected early in the week “is obviously a serious concern for our homeless population. It’s also complicated by the pandemic and the need to keep people socially distanced when they’re sheltered.”
He added the city has partnered with several organizations, including the Louisville Coalition for the Homeless and The Salvation Army, to provide aid, such as making overnight shelters and transportation to shelters available.
Other organizations working with the city include The Healing Place, Wayside Christian Mission and St. Vincent de Paul.
If those shelters fill up, Fischer said the city can extend its contract with Wayside for an overnight, temporary shelter with no reservations required.
“Our Office for Resilience and Community Service has reached out to all shelters in Louisville and we have been advised that there are beds and space available for daytime and evening shelter for those who want it,” said the mayor’s spokesperson Jean Porter.
She said a month ago, the city allotted $250,000 to the Office for Homeless and Housing Services “to help our most vulnerable.”
Jeff Gill, founder of Hip Hop Cares, said it’s important to talk about short-term solutions to getting people off the streets, so they don’t get injured or die from the frigid temperatures.
“The only thing that the city of Louisville provided this week was excuses,” Gill said. “That is it, and those excuses did not feed one person. Those excuses did not house one person.”
The leaders said Hotel Louisville, which has been used as a shelter before, is 90% vacant and called on Wayside Christian Mission to open its doors to those on the streets.
A message left for the owner of Hotel Louisville Saturday night asking for comment was not immediately returned.
“If you have space, we need to put people in these spaces,” said Stachelle Bussey, founder of The Hope Buss.
Bussey called on Louisville residents to open their buildings — vacant houses, Airbnbs, churches, gyms — to the homeless.
“Here’s my challenge to you, compassionate Louisville: Let’s get real compassionate,” Bussey said. “Let’s set the example, and it starts with us because there ain’t no power like the power of the people.”