Damon Walker used to point to the homeless encampment on College Street under the I-65 off-ramp, and warn his daughter that bad decisions could leave her homeless. Now Walker lives at the College Street camp with other homeless people. But soon, the city will shut down his camp — leaving him with few options of where to go next.
On Nov. 12, city officials posted a 21-day notice to vacate at the College Street camp. Giving notice is a relatively new city policy that was approved by Metro Council earlier this year. It was implemented after the city came under fire for clearing homeless camps without prior notice to residents.
Jean Porter, a spokeswoman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, said the city is clearing out the camps at the request of the state. Porter said the state cited crime and unsafe conditions at the camps, though she did not give specifics. She said the city’s Homeless Encampment Task Force is working to address the issue but she said long-term solutions are costly and state and federal funding has been cut.
“Nobody is happy with the way things are, but it is wrong to say that we’re not working on it,” Porter said. “It is an important issue and we realize that. And we[‘re] working in consultation with community partners to try to come up with solutions.”
Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition of the Homeless, said what the city needs most is more places for people to go.
“The biggest problem that we have in the city right now is that our shelters are full every night,” Harris said. “We have a waiting list for family shelter and there’s not enough safe places for people to come inside.”
Besides the waiting lists, shelters also have rules.
Melissa Kratzer, the director of development at the Coalition for the Homeless, said some shelters require tenants be sober or work with case managers in order to stay. And she said if people are known to have a history of violent behavior, they could be barred from entering some shelters. Staying outside a shelter is a last resort for some, but Kratzer said some people prefer encampments for the stability and sense of community.
That’s why Walker and his friend Henry said they love their camp. Henry, who declined to give his last name, said the camp feels like family and he feels safer there than in a shelter. But when their camp at College Street is cleared out, another nearby camp at Oak and Floyd streets in Old Louisville will be forced to vacate, too, leaving the men wondering where they will go next.
The College Street camp is scheduled to be cleared by the city on Dec. 3.