Community

The man in the red jacket just wanted some rest.

He folded his tall frame onto a cold, hard bench along what’s usually one of the city’s most bustling streets, one lined with bars and boutiques, and shut his eyes.

But before he drifted away, a small group of people bundled in hats and gloves approached him, asking for a brief chat.

“Make it kind of quick,” he said. “I’m trying to go to sleep.”

The people gathered around and he sat up on the bench. They’d come to ask some questions of the man, the first one served as a poignant reminder of the longstanding torment that cities, including Louisville, struggle with every day.

“How long have you been homeless,” asked Corbin Hannah.

Hannah, 32, is a volunteer taking part in the city’s annual homeless street count that sent some 350 people across the city to count the men, women and children spending the night on the streets.

The aim of the annual count is to get an idea of just how many people are homeless in Louisville. It helps service providers in the city understand the need that exists. The count also provides proof that resources from local, state and federal agencies are desperately needed to help provide those services to the thousands of Louisville residents that are without a permanent place to live.

Hannah joined other volunteers Terri Hathaway, Sarah Cole and Daniel Loy hours before sunrise Thursday and scoured the sidewalks and alleyways around the Baxter Avenue corridor in the Highlands searching for homeless residents.

They carried flashlights and bags stuffed with packaged food, socks and blankets. The questions they asked sought to get an idea of how long each resident had been living on the street, what services they need or have sought, their mental state and if they’d been approached for sex or labor trafficking.

For five years, the man in the red jacket has lived on the streets of Louisville. He’s never been involved in human trafficking. He’s struggled with mental illness in the past, he said, and took the first steps towards getting services he needs to get off the street, but he’s been slow to follow up.

Hannah, who also works with homeless youth in the city, said that’s not entirely uncommon. She said the path to getting off the street can be an overwhelming process requiring that several appointments be made and kept.

“That can be very difficult to do when you’re someone who, day to day, don’t know where you’re sleeping, you don’t know what you’re eating,” she said.

The man thanked the group as they began to leave. Just a few hours remained until the day shelter would open, where he’d get warm and have some coffee.

He tucked the socks and blanket close to his side and stuffed the food in his pockets. He laid back down on the bench and tried to fall asleep.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.