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City's outdoor space still not ready to serve unsheltered residents

Ten platforms meant to hold tents at Louisville's new safe outdoor space offering transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness.
Alex Harrison
Ten platforms meant to hold tents at Louisville's new safe outdoor space offering transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Louisville’s long-awaited Safe Outdoor Space for houseless residents is still not ready to provide shelter or services to people experiencing homelessness, despite Mayor Greg Fischer’s plans to open the site by the end of March.

Speaking at a press conference on March 24, Fischer said supply chain challenges had caused delays.

“We hope that they won't interrupt us here as we approach the end of the month,'' Fischer said while standing before two rows of insulated tents that have since been removed.

An accompanying news release said the site on the border of Old Louisville and Smoketown, now known as Hope Village, “should open by March 31, barring any issues outside our control, like weather and supply chain challenges.”

But entering April, Hope Village remains fenced off and under construction, marking the third time the city has pushed back the opening date for the $1.5 million project. Louisville Metro Government’s Homeless Communications Coordinator Julia Dake told KyCIR in an email that the city continues to make progress towards completing Hope Village, but did not provide a new anticipated opening date.

Dake also attributed the delay to further supply chain issues, specifically a backordered electrical panel needed for the individual outlets provided to each tent.

But when KyCIR visited the site on Thursday, Hope Village sat nearly empty. The tents on display during last week's press conference were gone, leaving only ten wooden platforms. The platforms are supposed to hold a total of 48 tents that will house up to 53 people at a time.

A staff trailer that arrived last week still has its windows boarded with plywood. No one was seen working at the site at 2:30 p.m., and the entrance gate was left open.

The adjacent building where the city plans to create transitional housing for Hope Village residents as they seek permanent housing is also unfinished. The city plans to spend $7.5 million renovating the building, once the chancery of the Archdiocese of Louisville, but as of Thursday many windows are either smashed out or boarded up, and the front doorstep remains littered with broken glass.

The city took the first steps toward Hope Village last year on July 28, when a press release from Fischer’s office announced plans to build a Safe Outdoor Space as part of a four-phase plan to address chronic homelessness and invest in affordable housing. The goal is to create a designated residence for houseless Louisvillians while they receive resources such as mental health support, addiction recovery and assistance finding permanent housing.

On August 20, the city announced it had selected the property at 212 E. College Street for the project. The Courier Journal reported in October the city could open the site “as soon as mid-November,” and on November 23, Mayor Fischer signed an ordinance allocating $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to the project.

Local non-profit The Hope Buss, Inc. won a competitive bid to operate the site in January, with an expected opening in February.

But by the press conference on March 24, the site was still not open. The Hope Buss founder and executive director Rev. Stachelle Bussey said at the time that the first referrals for houseless residents to stay at Hope Village were “rolling in.”

Bussey did not respond to a request for comment.

WFPL reporter Yasmine Jumaa contributed reporting.

Contact Alex Harrison at aharrison@louisvillepublicmedia.org

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