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More issues than answers remain in Lexington's homeless battle

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Despite money being set aside for a commission to tackle homelessness, more than 1,400 people live in shelters, transitional housing, or on Lexington's streets.

"I can't make ends meet," said Dyanna Hines who moved to the Catholic Action Center a few weeks ago with only 13 cents to her name. "But for the grace of God anyone could end up like this. It's a bummer, the pits. I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."

The number of homeless in Fayette County spiked in 2010 at 1,558, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which requires cities to count them. But since 2010, the number declined slightly to 1,428 in 2012.

Despite the decline and the fact Fayette County has a smaller population than Jefferson County, Fayette County's homeless population is roughly the same. Homeless counts show just 100 more homeless people in Jefferson County than Fayette County while its overall population is more than twice as large. While Montgomery County, Ohio -- the home of Dayton -- has more than 200,000 more people than Fayette County, its homeless population is more than 400 less than Fayette County.

In May 2012, 114 people volunteered to serve on the commission which was to examine long-term challenges and outstanding needs for Lexington's homeless.

Earlier this year, the commission released a report with recommendations to fix what many believe to be a growing problem for the city.

"There's been a lot of concern about what happened to that report," said Beth Musgrave of The Herald-Leader who worked with WKYT's Miranda Combs on a month-long investigation called "Project: Homeless." The Herald-Leader spoke Lexington Mayor Jim Gray about the status of the commission's report.

"The only thing that's really been acted on is Mayor Gray did set aside money in his budget for an office on homelessness -- one of the key recommendations," said Musgrave.

While $120,000 in the current budget was set aside for an Office of Homeless Intervention and Prevention, a director has not been hired.

An affordable housing study that's costing nearly $50,000 is in the works after the mayor said he wants to make sure the city isn't rushing to find a quick fix.

Gray said the study will help give the city more information to determine the best path forward and the best person for the new position. "The consultant's report will give us a good foundation for the next move forward," Gray told The Herald-Leader.

Gray said he understands people's frustrations that the recommendations of the task force have not been yet been actualized.

Rushing, however, often leads to problems, Gray said. "Regrettably, that often leads to half steps."

"On the other side, a lot of providers are saying and the homeless community are saying how many studies do we have to do? We need to move forward and need to move forward quickly," said The Herald-Leader's Musgrave who series of stories appeared in Sunday's edition.

So Musgrave headed west on a hunt to find out how Louisville handles the homeless. She says Jefferson County does receive about four times the amount of federal emergency shelter money as Lexington- which is one reason for their lower homeless numbers.

But there is another reason for Louisville's success in battling homelessness that Lexington has yet to achieve.

"They have taken a more coordinated community wide approach to homelessness where they've developed certain best practices and they've focused resources, on developing permanent housing," said Musgrave who found Louisville is focused on the chronically homeless who are those who continue to circulate through emergency rooms and jails in the community. "Sounds like it's costly but actually saves you money."

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