Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Agency for homeless struggles to find a home

Plans for site in Covington meet resistance

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — A planned social service center for the homeless being spearheaded by Welcome House of Northern Kentucky isn't welcome at Eighth and Washington streets in downtown Covington.

        That's where the Covington agency, and a consortium of similar organizations want to build the Life Learning Center.

[photo] Linda Young, director of Welcome House, displays a rendering of the proposed Life Learning Center.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        “This is something new and different that hasn't been tried around here,” said Welcome House Executive Director Linda Young. “I'm terribly excited about this and what it can do for the community.”

        Billed as a one-stop center where the homeless can find help moving from the streets to a job and a place to live, the $4 million center is getting strong financial backing from developer Bill Butler.

        Mr. Butler, a Covington native and the chairman of Corporex Cos. has committed $100,000 toward construction, offered to secure loans for additional construction and pledged to help raise the $1.8 million needed to operate the center for a year.

        But the center's organizers are getting resistance at Covington City Hall and from some business owners who think the facility would be better suited elsewhere.

        “I've said all along that I think the concept is great,” said Covington mayor-elect Butch Callery, a member of the Covington City Commission.

        “But where they want to place it is the wrong spot,” Mr. Callery said. “It will take away a lot of parking in that area, and I know a lot of the downtown businesses are opposed to it.”

        The businesses don't want to lose the 120 parking spaces at the lot on Washington Street between Seventh and Eighth streets, the location proposed for the Life Learning Center.

        Beth Sewell, executive director of the Covington Business Council — which man ages the parking lot — said the council's board of directors has been surveyed on the project and 78 percent were against it because of the potential loss of parking.

        “Pike Street alone has welcomed the redevelopment of over a dozen new businesses and/or expansions of current businesses over the last year which rely on the usage of this parking lot for both customers and employees,” Ms. Sewell said.

        “We question how this project can complement or enhance the current redevelopment efforts in our downtown,” she said.

        Ms. Sewell intends to make that point this evening at a 5:30 p.m. meeting of the Covington Board of Adjustments meeting, where the center is on the agenda.

        This fall the city turned down a zone change request from the center's organizers, a change that is necessary for the project to be built.

        The organizers appealed the ruling, which the Board of Adjustments will hear this evening, said Chairman Paul Maxfield.

        If the board rules against the center, Ms. Young said, Welcome House and others in the Learning Life Center consortium will appeal the ruling to Kenton Circuit Court.

        “We are going to work hard for this because we truly believe it will make a difference in people's lives ... and we would have been unable to find another location,” she said.

        The consortium has received $1.65 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The consortium includes Welcome House; the Mental Health Association of Northern Kentucky; Transitions Inc.; Catholic Social Services; NorthKey Community Care; and the Northern Kentucky Housing and Homeless Coalition.

        Five other groups have committed a combined $1 million for the center: the Diocese of Covington; Greater Cincinnati Foundation, including its affiliate Northern Kentucky Foundation; Kentucky Housing Corp.; Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery; and the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.

        Ms. Young said the center will offer a number of services, most contingent on people who use the services following a plan designed by social service case workers. The services include:

        • A Day Center, where the homeless can store belongings, change clothes, take a shower, pick up mail and use a phone to talk to prospective employers and set up job interviews.

        • A medical clinic for the homeless, who rarely have access to health care or health insurance. Staff will also be able to identify if patients need treatment or care for mental health problems.

        • Ten transitional efficiency apartments where residents coming out of drug and alcohol treatment can live for up to 18 months.

        “For people living on the streets, who for whatever reason don't have a plan or a way to get off the streets, this center offers a continuum of care for people who need it,” Ms. Young said.


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