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Op-Ed: All NKY Counties Should Help Homeless Residents

Last December, during one of our Saturday morning walks, my lovely wife brought up the topic of our New Year’s resolutions.

For fear of being placed in the dreaded cone of silence for the remainder of 2019, I will not tell you of Tina’s objectives for 2019.

After listening to her “self-improvement plan” for the coming year, she asked me, ”Well, what are you going to do to better yourself?”

Not sure why, but I responded with one word: “Acceptance”.

After a few seconds, I said, “I am going to learn to accept things and people as they are.”

Since then I had the opportunity to share my resolution with other friends.

I don’t know what to think?!

Everyone agreed that my 2019 resolution was most needed!

I must be one very intolerant SOB!

Seems like I stumbled upon something that I need to reform in my life: my impulse to always try to correct the wrongs that I see in others.

So, I embarked on my 2019 goal with single-mindedness: I kept my nose out of the business of others! I thought that I was doing pretty good on my goal, until recently.

Less than two months into the new year and my acceptance of “things that I cannot change” went completely out the window.

I really must be the SOB that people think I am!

This past January, the weather outside was frightfully cold. This caused a huge increase in guests at the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky (ESNKY). Twice this winter I have called the Newport city manager and asked him to have the folks who were taking up residency under what is called the “wagon bridge” removed and encouraged to go to our Emergency Shelter in Covington.

I hope that kicking people out of a place where they choose to live does not make me a heartless person. I just do not want my fellow human beings suffering needlessly when there is a warm place to spend the night.

The Emergency Shelter is overcrowded and lacking the restroom and laundry facilities that are needed to shelter these men and women.

Homelessness and affordable housing were the number one issues recently identified by an NKY group of 30- to 40-year olds.

So, let’s build a bigger, better facility. The ESNKY has over $1 million thanks to the fundraising efforts of former Kenton County Judge/Executive Ralph Drees and former United States Congressman Goeff Davis.

But, where to build?

Kim Webb, executive director of the shelter, continues to look for a space where her agency can adequately care for the needs of our homeless. (They are our homeless. These folks, men and women, are from our families.) She fights that awful prejudice we commonly refer to as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). When speaking about this, Kim, and the prior executive director, Rachel Winters, will refer to the fact that our Kentucky state laws require that each of our 120 counties have an animal shelter, but are not required to have a human shelter?

Always the cynic, I had to look this up for myself.

The Kentucky Revised Statutes, KRS 258.195, reads as follows: (1) The governing body of each county shall employ, appoint, or contract with an animal control officer, or shall contract with an entity that employs, appoints, or contracts with an animal control officer, and shall establish and maintain an animal shelter as a means of facilitating and administering KRS 258.095 to 258.500.

I looked for, but couldn’t find, any statute that requires counties provide for human shelters! Kim Webb is correct.

And this is where I failed my resolution. Even though I cannot change this, I cannot accept this as it is!

There is a very simple solution: the General Assembly could pass legislation requiring each of the 120 counties provide shelter for humans when the outside climate could cause death. It may be as simple as changing the wording of the above cited legislation and enacting such a law (sounds too simple, right?).

This is a fairly simple fix, right?

No, not really! There still remains the acceptance of a facility in each of Northern Kentucky's three counties.

As I explained the possibility of such legislation, one person said to me, “That ain’t gonna happen, Rechtin!”

But wait.

NKY has underutilized assets throughout the region that could be used to serve folks less fortunate than ourselves.

But, you say, “I know all about NKY (Boone, Kenton and Campbell). Just where do these places exist?”

They are right under our noses. We use them every Sunday! Or, if you are a Baptist, on Wednesday night as well.

So, here’s the plan:

There would be a gathering place, a “reception center”, in each of the three counties:

In Campbell County, folks might gather in the lobby of the Campbell County Fiscal Court Building on Monmouth Street.

In Kenton County, homeless people would gather in front of the new Kenton County Fiscal Court Building now being constructed near I-75 in Covington.

In Boone County, people would congregate at the Florence Government Complex.

At these three reception centers, the homeless guests would be greeted by volunteers or staff of Welcome House or ESNKY. Staff/volunteers would then help give directions to those seeking shelter for the night.

At the reception centers, every evening at 6 p.m. from November 1 through April 1, church vans or public buses would arrive to transport our guests to their accommodations for the night.

So, you ask, “Ken, where are you taking these folks?”

Me: “Good Question!”

All churches, schools, clubs, fraternal organizations, religious groups, and any other organization in NKY would be given the opportunity to “serve and share”: Serve their fellow man and share their resources.

An organization described above would offer dormitory style rooming facilities for up to ten same-sex guests. The charity’s facilities would be provided with training, cots, blankets, sheets, laundry soap, towels, a microwavable hot evening meal, and a coffee and pastry breakfast to be served to each guest.

In addition to the dorm-style room, the organization would provide a restroom facility with shower, a washer and dryer, a TV and seating area, a game table, and volunteer(s) to chaperone the evening.

The following morning, at 6 a.m., the vans or buses would arrive to transport our guests back to the reception centers.

So, now I ask, “What do you think? Does it address our needs?”

If you are a volunteer who believes that this is a good idea, if you are a church or one of those organizations looking for “good works” to do, or if you believe that I need to stick to my New Year’s resolution and keep my nose out of it, please let me know.

Ken Rechtin: or

Ken Rechtin is a Newport city commissioner