Apr 052013

By Danny Mayer

In early March, members of Lexington’s city council voted unanimously to pass a resolution in support of the restoration of voting rights to felons who had served their time in prison. The resolution was largely symbolic—the legal authority to re-enfranchise former felons lies in the hands of state lawmakers, not city council members.  The resolution’s main purpose was to offer a demonstration of unified local political support for HB 70, a state bill sponsored by Fayette County congressman Jesse Crenshaw. His bill would allow Kentucky citizens to vote on a constitutional amendment that will automatically restore voting rights to most Kentucky felons who have completed the terms of their sentence (as happens in most other states).

In addition to the show of support, the council’s vote also sent another message to Frankfort politicians: let democracy happen. For the past seven years, the Kentucky House of Representatives has voted on and overwhelmingly passed HB 70, only to see it killed by Republicans Damon Thayer (Georgetown) and Joe Bowen (Owensboro) in the Senate’s Committee on State and Local Government. Consequently, despite the bill garnering increasingly bipartisan support among both state politicians and the general public, HB 70 has yet to leave its assigned Senate subcommittee. Continue reading »

Nov 072012

The city of Lexington ripped down these posters while choosing to leave nearby campaign posters standing.

By Ebony Nava

This past Thursday, November 1, at 12:00am, “36,897” sprang up all over Lexington: on flyers tacked to telephone poles, makeshift “tombstones” outside of houses, and large in-your-face banners. “36,897” is how many homeless people died in the U.S., alone and on the streets, in 2011.

The local “36,897” campaign is run by “The Face of Homelessness of Lexington” and backed by local group the Street Voice Council, which serves as a voice for Lexington’s approximately two thousand homeless residents. The campaign was created to bring awareness to the city of Lexington’s decision to close The Community Inn on Winchester Road due to a zoning dispute, even though freezing weather—which can, and will, prove fatal for Lexington homeless—is quickly approaching.

A mere five hours after it began, the awareness campaign was cut short when Lexington’s clean-up crew performed a smash-up job  of de-flyering the poles and destroying the “tombstones.” Local Lexington resident and activist for the homeless Jerry Moody stated, “Out of the twenty-five ‘Tombstones’ displayed, we could only salvage five. The rest were completely destroyed. The city even removed and destroyed the signs that were placed on private property.”

While Lexington Mayor Jim Gray was apologetic when approached by the Street Voice Council, as of this publication no remedy to the destruction of campaign materials has been agreed upon. Meanwhile, lawyers for the Street Voice Council are preparing to sue the city of Lexington for the destruction of private property and infringement of their right to free speech. While the city removed posters mentioning the 36,897 homeless people who died last year on the streets, the surrounding U.S. election posters and campaign propaganda all remained untouched.

Sep 142011

Adjunct labor at Bluegrass

I am shocked to find out that the adjunct instructors are paid so little (“Open Letter to KCTCS president Michael McCall,” July 13). Most of the instructors I have had are adjuncts, and without exception they have been hard working and very dedicated to their students. I certainly hope this helps KCTCS to recognize that they need these instructors and that they deserve to be fairly compensated.

Lora Botner, online

War on homeless

I am a member of the much-hated homeless population in Lexington. Continue reading »

Sep 142011

City avoids responsibility, leadership

By Jeff Gross

What, if anything, the LFUCG will do about the Catholic Action Center remains to be seen, and it will say a lot about our community’s values. Following the Herald-Leader story on the LFUCG councilmembers’ response to concerns raised by the Center’s neighbors, councilmembers have said little publicly on the issue, awaiting community feedback at an upcoming public safety committee meeting.

On the other hand, the Catholic Action Center has attempted to improve their neighborhood presence and services. They are expanding meal delivery services for their elderly neighbors. They are visiting neighbors to find people who would benefit from this service. They have also reiterated that the public is welcome to their Tuesday free medical clinics. As a friend remarked upon seeing this news on a Quaker listserv, “Evidently, the way the Catholic Action Center handles criticism is to reach out and help the community even more!” Continue reading »

Aug 242011

By Jeff Gross

Last week, news emerged that four members of the Urban County Council (Vice Mayor Linda Gordon, At-Large member Steve Kay, First District’s Chris Ford, and Fifth District’s Bill Farmer, Jr.) met privately with Bishop Gainer to ask him to address concerns about the Catholic Action Center. The Center is independently run, but the property is owned by the Diocese of Lexington. Beverly Fortune’s “Neighbors’ complaints about Catholic Action Center get Attention at Lexington’s City Hall” in the Herald-Leader outlined the common complaints against the Center and potential actions being weighed by the councilmembers. The Catholic Action Center’s response, available on their Facebook group page, convincingly articulates their record for service and their commitment to working with the neighborhood. You can also search North of Center’s archives for my previous writing on this topic.

In response to complaints about loitering, noise, public intoxication, and litter, Kay suggests that one potential solution would be to expand the city’s nuisance ordinance to cover commercial property: “The current ordinance says if you have more than two police citations in a certain period of time, the building can be closed for one year.” In a moment of forced austerity, especially for already impoverished and struggling Americans, and in light of Lexington’s budgetary cuts to social services and public safety, the legal loophole nuisance ordinance “solution” poses an especially dangerous and impractical threat to private agencies that provide a safety net for vulnerable citizens. If government agencies cannot care for citizens (especially those who suffer from addiction or mental illness), then they must find ways to work with the agencies that can and will do that work. Continue reading »

Sep 292010

“Emergency” shelters set up

By Jeff Gross

Last Friday, central Kentucky began playing host to “the world,” as we’ve been repeatedly told. “Company’s coming” has been the refrain and late last week Mayor Newberry sent an email telling residents to “sweep the front porch” for our guests: “When we have company at our house, one of the last things we do is sweep off the front porch so our guests have a good first impression.  Now is time for each of us to think of the few last minute things we can do to make sure Lexington’s guests have a good first impression.”

Evidently, one of the “last minute things” has been consideration for the homeless in downtown.

Until October 10, downtown streets will be closed in the evening, filling with festival-goers for live music and medal ceremonies. Normal patterns of downtown life will be suspended, especially for those who live on the streets and in Phoenix Park. Continue reading »

Sep 152010

Review: Please Don’t Call Me Homeless: I Don’t Call You Homed

By Mary Alice Pratt

The Downtown Arts Center was sold out for both the August 20 and 21 performances of Please Don’t Call Me Homeless: I Don’t Call You Homed. On both evenings an enthusiastic audience, eager for personal interactions, thronged the actors as they emerged after the play. The actors were individuals who had experienced homelessness often due to addictive diseases and who were now enjoying new lives of sobriety, hope, and dignity. They were also clients of the Catholic Action Center (CAC), which has worked with persons on the margin for 10 years.

Eric Seale, Artistic Director of Actors Guild of Lexington, deserves much credit for having guided the actors as they portrayed their own lives. Jeff Gross deserves no less credit for producing the script of the performers’ own words about their experiences. Gross became involved with persons at the CAC while working there as a volunteer. A UK graduate student in English, he spent several months listening to individual stories before incorporating them into a script.

Actors in the play were all participants in the CAC’s “Circle of Care.” As the play program describes it, the Circle of Care includes “weekly meetings of community mentors and participants to give care, connection and accountability needed by those walking the journey from the streets to a home.” Continue reading »

Aug 252010

Homelessness in our communities

By Jeff Gross

(Editor’s note: This article is part two of Jeff’s series based on his work with and for people experiencing homelessness in Lexington. In his last piece, he introduced the Catholic Action Center and the Street Voice Council.)

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting in Phoenix Park, near the downtown public library at the corner of Limestone and Main. I counted 27 people in the park, most of whom were sitting on benches and carrying on private conversations. Two police officers on bicycles talked to each other and watched the park. All-in-all, the park was a clean and quiet environment. Despite its tranquil atmosphere this particular Wednesday, Phoenix Park is an often-contested space in the heart of Lexington.

Photo by Hilary Brown

Phoenix Park with daytime residents. Photo by Hilary Brown.

The homeless and marginally homed, the vast majority of people who inhabit the park on an average workday, see it as a space for community, a safe place where they can get together to make it through the day.

For some downtown business owners, though, these park users are seen as a threat to business.

In the public discussion over the character and purpose of the park, the problem has been that the voices of the homeless and marginally homed have been the most muted in the struggle over the park’s future. Yet, these are the people the most personally affected by decisions made about Phoenix Park. Continue reading »