Among a variety of other changes, Kentucky’s House Bill (HB) 5 proposes rules that would criminalize people who are struggling with homelessness.
As we work to meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty, social workers must seek to understand the root causes of homelessness and find meaningful solutions to end homelessness in Kentucky.
In the interest of improving safety for all Kentuckians, it is important to remember that there are many ways in which it is unsafe to be homeless, from to violence against people who are homeless, to exposure in extreme weather conditions, particularly in winter. People experiencing homelessness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than to commit violent crimes.
There are many reasons people may not have a place to live. The National Alliance to End Homelessness points to a few main causes:
Housing affordability and Income
Here in Kentucky, more than 165,000 households struggle with extremely low income, and the shortage of affordable rental homes puts these Kentuckians at increased risk of becoming unhoused.
Additionally, people with a criminal conviction, even a misdemeanor or an older conviction, face increased challenges when seeking employment and safe housing.
Physical and mental health issues, including medical debt, can contribute to financial issues that result in being unhoused, and these health conditions can be made worse by not having a place to live. Additionally, not having an address or a reliable means of transportation creates additional barriers to accessing health care.
Last year, the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety cabinet released its first ever data report on domestic violence in the state, revealing that 45.3% of women and 35.5% of men have experience some type of intimate partner violence within their lifetime.
People of color, particularly Black Americans and Indigenous Americans, are overrepresented among those experiencing homelessness, with much of that inequity attributable to inequities in the criminal justice system.
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness suggests alternatives to criminalizing homelessness, with many of the suggestions involving social workers to help coordinate care.
Multiple studies have shown that a Housing First approach is effective for improving housing stability and quality of life for people experiencing homelessness.
According to the 2023 K-Count, which is a point-in-time count of persons experiencing homeless on a single night in Kentucky, we have more than 4,700 Kentuckians across the state who do not have a permanent address. About half of these people were in Fayette or Jefferson counties, with the other half counted across rural and urban areas.
The Kentucky Interagency Council on Homelessness introduced a plan to end homelessness in Kentucky through a multi-pronged approach that works to address root causes, including financial assistance, connection to resources, medical respite, and other strategies.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.