Metro Louisville

Louisville will clear out homeless camps ahead of the Kentucky Derby again.

Officials posted notices that camps on Liberty Street downtown near Wayside Christian Mission, which provides services for the homeless, and Adair Street near the airport will be dismantled on April 15.

John Miles, veteran coordinator for the Louisville Metro’s Office of Resilience and Community Services, said during a meeting of the city’s Homeless Encampment Taskforce Wednesday the camps need to come down for safety reasons.

“We definitely look at severity, the health risk factor, not only for our clients, but our pedestrians who travel underneath those overpasses,” Miles said.

Miles said there were 50 people living at the camp on Liberty Street as of Wednesday.

Tameka Laird, director of the city’s Office of Resilience and Community Services, said during the meeting that the state had ordered the Adair Street camp to be cleared out after finding unsanitary conditions and “an abundance of feces.”

“It’s all about us trying to balance both of those: being respectful and diligent of our homeless, and then also being respectful of our citizens in the community,” Laird said.

Clearing out homeless camps has become a tradition for Louisville ahead of its signature event.

The city’s camp removal tactics have come under fire by homeless advocates in recent years.

Louisville’s Metro Council passed an ordinance in 2018 requiring 21 days’ notice before clearing out camps after the city was criticized for not providing prior notice to residents.

Last year city leaders apologized after removing tents and other personal belongings using a backhoe at an encampment in Jefferson Square Park without notice.

And last month, Louisville Metro Police cleared a homeless encampment at Market and Hancock streets without proper notice. Officials apologized for the incident and blamed it on “miscommunication.”

Laird said, ahead of next month’s removals, outreach workers will try to connect homeless people with social services.

“We also know that some of our unsheltered will refuse services or refuse to go on,” Laird said. “We have to try to work on solutions that will help the community and then help the overall effort of moving the unsheltered into shelter.”

Though last year’s Kentucky Derby was delayed until September and included no spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic, race officials plan to have limited in-person attendance this year.

The race will be on May 1.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.