Community Metro Louisville

Louisville residents who are unsheltered may be able to access the city’s long-touted safe outdoor space as soon as next week, officials announced Thursday.

Dubbed the “Hope Village,” the outdoor space is located along East College Street in Old Louisville. It’s meant to serve as a central location with direct access to resources, like mental health services, case management and more stable housing.

A 2019 report commissioned by the city found that Louisville needs more than 31,000 housing units that would be affordable to the lowest-income households. High rental costs are one barrier to moving unsheltered residents into permanent housing.

Rev. Stachelle Bussey, is the founder of the Hope Buss, a nonprofit with a goal of connecting people in crisis to resources. Earlier this year, she won the bid to manage and operate the space. At Thursday’s press conference, she said admission will be referral-based and open to unsheltered residents who want to transition into permanent housing. 

“The people we want to serve here are people who are absolutely in transition and ready for the next step, whatever the next step is for them,” Bussey said. “People are not just coming here to live, but they are coming here for safety and stability, and we want this place to look as much like home as possible.” 

Bussey said the city’s goal is to pay residents admitted to the Hope Village to work on the premises, and will have set regulations and security measures in place.

“They will be helping us keep it clean, they’ll be doing some of our food preparation,” Bussey said. “Our residents will be in by 10:00 p.m., they will have identification cards.”

Bussey said there will be security on-site, provided by local universities and organizations in the area as well as Louisville Metro Police. Their main goal, she said, will be to keep the perimeter secured. Bussey added that adverse incidents and safety threats will be ranked on a three-tiered scale, with additional support called on a case by case basis. 

The launch of the outdoor space is part of a four-phased approach to address the homelessness crisis that the city launched last summer. Mayor Greg Fischer said the city aims to transform a defunct administrative building nearby into transitional housing.

“Those are the units for unsheltered individuals moving through the housing process,” Fischer said. “Phase three is permanent supportive housing with wraparound services, including medical care, mental health care and recovery services for people that need those services on a 24/7 basis.”

The plan as Fischer described it has evolved from its initial proposal more than six months ago. However, one city effort that’s remained constant throughout is the assessment and clearing of unsheltered encampments. 

Last month, Fischer shut down a police unit focused on providing outreach to people experiencing homelessness. The two officers in the unit mainly worked mainly with people living in encampments.

Susan Buchino, director of Louisville Metro’s Homeless Services Division said Thursday the outdoor space isn’t a long-term solution, but a stepping stone to help residents navigate the complex system of accessing resources and services. 

“Creating an outdoor space is not a replacement for permanent shelter. As a harm reduction approach, it mitigates the risk associated with unsheltered houselessness and meets people where they are treating them with respect and dignity,” Buchino said. 

There’s still work to be done before the outdoor space is ready to welcome residents. That includes building platforms to raise tents off the pavement, installing a wind barrier and the semi-permanent hygiene stations. The site will offer 48 weather-proof tents, portable restrooms and hand-washing and a shower trailer. The Hope Village is slated to be up and running by March 31.

Yasmine Jumaa is WFPL’s race and equity reporter.