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Ahead Of Budget Cuts, Homeless Activists Speak Out With Silence

Vigil For a Just Budget

On a chilly and windy Friday morning, a small group gathered on Jefferson Street with bold signs and camp chairs. They might have looked like protesters at first, but they were doing something different. They were holding a vigil outside the mayor’s office.

Mayor Greg Fischer will present a budget next week to the Metro Council for the next fiscal year. It will detail where he thinks he can save $35 million by cutting personnel and services, which is needed to fill a budget shortfall driven by rising pension and employee health care costs.

Late last month, the Metro Council voted against raising taxes to offset the funding gap.

This moment feels somber, said Maria Price, who is executive director of the St. John's Center for Homeless Men. The city allocated more than $240,000 to St. John's in this year's budget.

"We were part of testifying in front of budget committee hearings and Metro Council hearings. Our volunteers called and we made our voices heard and at some point, it felt like, we need to just take a moment of silence and a solemn moment to remember the gravity of the situation," Price said.

As soon as the budget is released next week, Price said they'll be back to action.

On Friday afternoon, Fischer tweeted that he stands in solidarity with the vigil-holders, who planned to be there all day. He took the opportunity to reiterate that he believes new revenue will be needed to address the gap, which he expects to continue growing for the next four years.

Price said the budget is a moral document that reflects the community's values.

“Even in tough times we cannot turn our backs on the poor, on the services that people need, on opportunities to balance the scales," she said.

The Coalition for the Homeless said Thursday that the number of individuals accessing homeless services from Oct. 2017 through Sept. 2018 grew more than 4 percent over the same period the year before, according to an annual census.

The number of people sleeping outside on a subzero night in January, when volunteers performed an annual street count, showed that more people were off the streets following the opening of a city-supported low barrier shelter.

Coalition Executive Director Natalie Harris called on the community to push for the preservation of services that serve the homeless.

"We are all aware that we have a homelessness crisis in Louisville. This problem will only get worse through the proposed cuts to preventative services that are currently funded by Metro Government," she said, according to a press release.

Fischer will present his budget next Thursday. Metro Council will work on it for two months then pass a final version in late June.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.