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Louisville Homeless Shelters Expect Influx as Single-Digit Cold Approaches


Temperatures are forecast to drop into the single digits starting this weekend and three Louisville homeless shelters are preparing for an influx of overnight visitors.The homeless shelters will activate Operation White Flag, a program that disregards normal rules for admittance and accepts anyone who is without a warm place to stay during extreme temperatures. Operation White Flag is instituted when winter temperatures drop below 35 degrees. Natalie Harris, executive director of Coalition for the Homeless, said on any other night, nearly 300 people are turned away from shelters because of space. There are currently 692 emergency beds in shelters throughout Louisville. Harris said Operation White Flag eases the stress for people responsible for making bed reservations for the homeless. “You know everybody has a place to go,” she said.  “If it’s not a White Flag night there are some people that have to sleep outside.” Shelters involved in ensuring as many people get off the streets as possible during Operation White Flag are the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul and Wayside Christian Mission. The program can be a burden to shelters at capacity, as the additional people drain already scant resources, Harris said. “They have to bring extra food, extra towels and extra blankets,” she said.   Additional people may not have a bed—maybe just a chair and blanket—but they will at least be out of the cold, Harris said. Funds for Operation White Flag, in part, are provided by Louisville Metro Government, but the costs still plague shelters’ ability to provide necessary provisions. Harris said the city’s contribution amounts to approximately $5 per individual per night. “It doesn’t cover the costs, but it at least helps during those nights,” she said. But Harris said federal budget cuts have led to a 40 percent reduction in emergency funding, and additional cuts are expected to impact other programs to combat homelessness. She said monetary donations can be submitted online at www.louhomeless.org or by mail to The Coalition for the Homeless at 1300 S. 4th Street, Suite 250, Louisville, Ky., 40208. Also, Harris said supplies—such as blankets, towels, toiletries and clothes—are always needed. To find out how to make these donations, call 636-9550.  

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.