The city will resume clearing homeless encampments it deems unsafe, without being restricted by pandemic guidelines. Officials said it’s part of a multi-phase approach to address the homelessness crisis.

The plan includes:

  • Assigning an outdoor space where residents can access walk-up supportive services
  • Establishing temporary shelters, possibly in places like motels and hotels
  • Developing more permanent housing 

Metro government’s Chief of Community Building, Vincent James, said the city came up with its proposed approach by researching best practices implemented in other cities and states across the country. 

“Our intention anytime we encounter a person experiencing homelessness is to get them off the street, into a shelter and on a path to permanent, supportive housing,” James said. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution.” 

The city will begin assessing encampments for health and safety risks as early as July 29.

“We have a new assessment tool that we’re using in terms of assessing individual camps as to whether or not the camp needs to stay, or if it needs to be removed because of health concerns, as well as the placement of that camp,” James said. 

It’s unclear what metrics are being used. But, if camps located on public grounds are deemed unfit, they’ll get 21 days to clear out before eviction ━ a requirement under the city’s homeless protection ordinance. During that time, residents could work with service providers to access resources, temporary or stable housing or face a risk of being displaced. 

Shelter-in-place mandates didn’t stop Metro Government from razing tent communities at the height of the pandemic. The city cleared unsheltered residents’ belongings from Jefferson Square Park. This happened on multiple occasions, including in February of this year. Not long after that, encampments downtown were notified of the city’s intent to clear them in April, to prepare for the Kentucky Derby Festival. 

City spokesperson Debbie Belt said the office of resilience and community services and partnering organizations “remain nimble to best address the needs” of Louisville’s unsheltered population. When asked to comment on the demolition of homeless encampments during the stay-at-home order, Belt said February’s actions were taken because of “increasingly unsanitary” conditions. In reference to the March razing, she said it “turned out to be a phase cleaning”.

Metro Government will use American Rescue Plan funding for the first three years of the project.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.