Louisville’s annual census finds increase in homeless, but less sleeping outside

A homeless encampment under the I-264 overpass on Jefferson Street. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

The Coalition for the Homeless released the results of its annual Louisville Homeless Census on Thursday, showing an increase in the overall number of homeless individuals but a decrease in the number who are unsheltered.

The annual census found that advocates and outreach teams provided services to 6,986 unduplicated homeless people between October 1, 2017, and September 31, 2018, which was a 4.3% increase from the 6,695 served in the previous year.

While the number of unsheltered people served throughout 2018 decreased by 18% from 774 to 632, the number of sheltered individuals served increased by 7.3 percent, from 5,921 to 6,354.

During the annual point-in-time homeless street count in January of this year, 118 individuals were found sleeping outside in sub-zero temperatures, a 23 percent decrease from the previous year. That same morning, 953 individuals were counted who stayed in emergency shelters — including 161 sleeping inside the newly created low-barrier homeless shelter at Wayside Christian Mission, made possible by emergency funding appropriated by Metro Council a month earlier.

“While the visibility of street homelessness has drastically risen in the last two years, it is not necessarily true that the number of those sleeping in camps or on the streets has risen,” stated Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. “Homeless individuals are having greater difficulty finding safe locations for homeless camps and many see greater security in well-lit downtown sites where they believe there is safety in numbers.”

The most notable of those downtown locations is the underpass of the interstate on Jefferson Street, which is commonly lined with dozens of homeless individuals sleeping in tents and occasionally cleared out by the city over sanitation concerns.

Referencing the city’s looming $35 million budget shortfall in the coming fiscal year, Harris noted that while everyone is aware that Louisville has a homelessness crisis, “this problem will only get worse through the proposed cuts to preventative services that are currently funded by Metro Government.”

“We need the community to step up and demand that vital resources provided by the Department of Resilience and Community Services, the External Agency Funds, and Neighborhood Development Funds are preserved,” stated Harris.

In addition to funding new low-barrier shelters for the homeless in December, Metro Council also appropriated funds for a new temporary storage facility for the homeless, which opened in March. However, the funding for those new services runs out on July 1, which may have to end or be scaled back if additional funds are not included in the budget for the next fiscal year.

The news release announcing the new totals from the annual census also noted that the number of homeless persons served who reported being victims of domestic violence has increased from 879 in 2014 to 1,584 in 2018, statistics that “strongly support the need for more violence prevention in our community along with homeless services.”

The Coalition for the Homeless also listed the following statistics on the state of homelessness in the city:

  • Louisville’s eviction rate is 4.82%, which is two times that of the national average, with 14 households evicted each day.
  • There were 262 homeless people in 75 families staying in a shelter during the January point-in-time count, including 169 children under age of 18 and
  • Between 40 and 70 homeless families are on the waiting list for emergency shelter each night, while there were 1,039 unduplicated families who spent time on this waiting list throughout 2018.
  • There are 76 unaccompanied homeless young adults under the age of 25 in Louisville, a 67% decrease since 2017 — when the coalition began an initiative to end young adult homelessness in the city.
  • There are 13,092 families on the Section 8 waiting list in the city.