Community

Louisville housing advocates and health officials held a harm reduction event near the Edgewood neighborhood on Monday. The effort aims to make community services and basic necessities more accessible to the city’s most vulnerable residents. 

Donny Greene is co-founder of Feed Louisville, a grassroots organization that delivers meals to people experiencing homelessness. The group is organizing the event alongside the city’s health department.

Its goal, he said, is to get residents connected with services that aren’t available to them on a regular basis. 

“This is a harm reduction day that will allow some folks to get vaccinations that haven’t been vaccinated, allow folks to get a shower and some new clothes and some new supplies that are desperately needed in that area,” Greene said. 

Multiple service providers will be there to help – including with scheduling medical appointments. Residents will also be provided food and toiletries. 

While relief efforts have been ongoing, Greene said they started holding harm reduction days earlier this year, after local officials cleared residents out of downtown encampments to clean ahead of the Kentucky Derby Festival

“We were out there with showers and clothing and food and supplies, toiletries, etc. for a couple days,” Greene said. “We moved people temporarily and allowed [the city] to clean the sidewalks and then put peoples’ things back where they belonged.”

Michael Kopp is a community health manager with the city’s Department of Public Health and Wellness. He said events like this help connect unsheltered residents with critical medical screenings ━ like HIV testing ━ and follow-up care. 

“The major benefit to us coming out and doing mobile testings is finding those positives, getting them into care and in treatment and then that is stopping the spread in our community,” Kopp said. 

Right now, Jefferson County is seeing a significant uptick in HIV transmission rates, compared to averages from the last four years. According to a recent city report, the rise can be attributed to several factors, including the redirection funds of public health dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“When we pull public health resources from some areas, the things [the money was] funding tend to go up in a negative way,” Kopp said. “If we don’t have enough equipment out there for the community, that’s when equipment gets shared, and that creates the spread and transmission.”

Recently, Louisville Metro officials proposed prioritizing homelessness resources and affordable housing in spending more than $300 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. Metro Council’s budget committee is set to discuss the resolution on Thursday, Aug. 19.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.