By Ruby Gregg
Members of Lexington’s housing commission say they are concerned about homelessness in the city, and they are discussing several ideas.
In a Jan. 24 meeting, the four-member board and three city council members spent a lot of time talking about one idea in particular: Designating parking spots for unhoused people who live in their cars.
Marisa Charley, a member of the city’s so-called Threshold Board, said she has spoken with a couple who live in their car. Charley said police make them move every evening.
“It was heartbreaking because what we’re talking about is concentrating all the resources in Lexington city, and then asking people to move further away from them,” she said. “The cruelty of that is so difficult to comprehend.”
The board, the equivalent to a housing authority, holds monthly public meetings, along with some city council members.
The idea about designated parking spaces was part of a broader conversation about dealing with homelessness generally. The board members and council members talked about a range of suggestions, including warm shelters in churches, affordable housing and trying to figure out exactly how many people are unhoused in the city.
Implementing safe parking spaces for the unhoused is not a new idea. Charley said states such as California require cities of a certain size to designate safe parking spaces near public restrooms.
“This is such a high priority that their communities are requiring they have it in place, so it seemed like an easy model to grab,” she said in an interview.
But Charley said she knows it will be a hard sell to the community. “I expect there to be a lot of push back,” she said. “I am concerned about the social and political will of our community to be willing to do what I think will be seen by some as inviting the problem into our community.”
In an interview after the meeting, City Council Member Nicholas Betts said the idea might appeal to people in Lexington.
“I think everybody wants to do something to help folks out,” he said. “I think a lot of people on the Threshold board would maybe be in favor if we could find the right location.”
City Council Member Marylin Alexander said during the meeting that she doesn’t think people in Lexington are focused on homelessness.
“If there is no appetite, I think there would be one if the police department were to find somebody frozen to death under a bridge somewhere,” she said.
But Threshold’s members said they will continue to work on a report that they will present to council that provides specifics about unhoused people, such as how many there are in the city, and explains their proposed solutions.
Shadrey Sands, Threshold’s chair, said homelessness in rural communities is different from urban areas, where there are many more unhoused people, who live on streets and in parks.
In rural areas, Sands said, unhoused people tend to live in their cars and move around, or they stay in abandoned houses.
“It’s easy to miss because it’s not as in your face,” he said.