Thursday, December 28, 2000

Plan gives homeless new chance

        COVINGTON — Some people are against a center that would get homeless men off the streets. Apparently, they prefer their homeless wandering downtown.

        I don't get it. The Life Learning Center, proposed for Eighth and Washington streets, would reduce the city's homeless problem, not increase it. Yet it is opposed by a majority of the board of the Covington Business Council.

        The property in question is owned by Bill Butler, the developer who remade Covington's riverfront. He likes the project so much that he's offering not only land but also money — at least $1 million to match federal grants.

Parking concerns
               The site is currently a parking lot used by nearby businesses. The 116 spaces are badly needed to encourage commerce, the business council says.

        Still, the lot belongs to Mr. Butler, who eventually would have developed it anyway.

        The Life Learning Center got zoning approval last week from the city's Board of Adjustment. Opponents may appeal the decision in court.

        Besides the loss of parking, some are against more social services in the area. The homeless already visit a number of agencies around Pike Street, including Welcome House, the Pike Street Clinic, the Parish Kitchen, Fairhaven Rescue Mission and Storehouse Ministries.

        But aside from Storehouse, which is privately run by a minister, none provide basic services for men during the day. Welcome House shelters only women and children. Men who stay at Fairhaven must have jobs or physical disabilities.

Place to clean up
               To some extent, these restrictions make sense; boarders must “get with the program” in order to receive services. But some homeless people are too independent or emotionally troubled to accept rigid structure.

        Living on riverbanks or in parks, they're unlikely to keep appointments for medical or mental health care. Some work in day labor pools, but others are unable to find jobs without showers or a place to store their belongings. Consequently, they may nod off in public libraries or use the bathroom wherever they can.

        The Life Learning Center would provide an alternative. The homeless could shower, use lockers, make phone calls and put together resumes during the day. At night, apartments would be available to men, women and families pursuing specific career or education goals.

        Best of all, they would get instant help from various public and nonprofit agencies with offices at the center. Services would include medical care, mental-health counseling, job assistance, even spiritual support — all designed to guide people toward safer ways of life.

        The staff would create an environment where loitering is not allowed, says Linda Young of Welcome House, which is helping to organize the project.

        Homeless people tend to form their own societies — complete with rules of conduct and acknowledged leaders. To design an effective program, a Welcome House employee has been working with these groups for months, learning how they function and what they need.

        This is exciting. With such a thoughtful, thorough program, the Life Learning Center will improve conditions for everyone downtown. People should be lining up to support it.



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