Effort to address homelessness continues with city work session

What role local government will play in trying to address Bowling Green’s homeless problem is still to be determined, but ideas that included creating an affordable housing trust fund and consolidating under one roof local agencies that deal with housing issues were at least brought into the open during a two-hour Bowling Green City Commission work session Thursday.

It didn’t take long during the work session coordinated by the Kentucky League of Cities at Sloan Convention Center to realize the complexity of the issue the city is trying to tackle.

Fourteen agencies and nonprofits that deal with homelessness and affordable housing issues were heard from, detailing the depth of a problem that appears to be growing.

As City Commissioner Carlos Bailey said: “I want to make sure we all work together so we can get homeless people off the streets. If we don’t do anything, it’s going to get worse.”

Bailey and fellow City Commissioner Dana Beasley Brown provided the impetus for Thursday’s meeting when they argued last month during discussions about the city budget that funding should be included for dealing with homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.

That spurred Mayor Todd Alcott to organize the work session, which he called “an opportunity to listen and learn together to find out the best way to work together to address this.”

Alcott and the four city commissioners got an earful from leaders of agencies that deal with everything from providing meals and temporary beds to addressing mental health issues.

The mayor said the city also received more than 70 comments about the homeless issue from city and county residents who weren’t allowed to speak Thursday but could email their thoughts in the days leading up to the work session.

Those comments ranged from one urging the city to “stop using taxpayer money to enable the homeless” to another that advocated better coordination among the various nonprofits and agencies that deal with homelessness and affordable housing issues.

The coordination idea was expanded on by LifeSkills Inc. Director of Community Engagement Melanie Watts, who said such a concept has worked in other communities.

Watts drew applause from a good many of the 80 or so people who turned out to observe the work session when she called on the city to build what she called a community center for all nonprofits that deal with homeless issues.

“We’re the third-largest city in the state, and we don’t have one place where all the services come together,” Watts said. “We need mental health services, job services and housing services all under one roof.”

Both Watts and HOTEL INC Executive Director Rhondell Miler advocated another way the city could use its resources – including funding it has received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act – to address homelessness: creation of a local affordable housing trust fund that could be used to provide incentives for developers to build low-cost housing.

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