Homelessness isn’t just an urban problem, say staff of a shelter serving the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. With poverty and a growing number of “love evictions” related to drug abuse, people from near and far rely on shelters and social-service programs for help.
After living much of the year in and out of an Eastern Kentucky hospital for a series of severe illnesses, Jeffery “Vinny” Foulon found himself in tough spot.
“I had no place to go,” said the Indiana native who had moved to Hazard, Kentucky, a town of about 5,200 in the mountainous coalfields. “I was staying in a house that actually had no heat. I just ended up in a bad situation.”
With a referral from the hospital, Foulon found emergency housing at the Corner Haven Crisis Center, a social-service agency that serves a rural clientele with emergency housing, food, and other services.
Unlike many rural people who are homeless, Foulon had no family or friends to rely on for interim housing. While his situation was a little outside the norm, he was far from alone in his need for help with accommodations.
“You could say everybody has a different story on how we all wound up in the same place,” Foulon said.
Because of its unpredictable and unstable nature, homelessness is hard to measure. Though frequently associated with urban areas, the issue affects rural communities, as well.
CHCC opened in 1977 as a food pantry. Its work has expanded over the years to meet changing needs.
CHCC is one of the main homeless shelters in the region. The building can hold 12 clients for emergency housing of up to 30 days. It has room for 12 more clients to stay in transitional housing for up to two years.
CHCC also supports three income-based housing complexes for the community – where rent does not exceed 30% of a tenant’s income. These housing options are normally set aside for families and often have long waiting lists, some extending up to two years. CHCC also helps clients with the transition to permanent housing through grant applications and referrals. And it helps its clients apply for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) vouchers that can defray rent for some.
The food pantry is still a main part of CHCC’s operations, providing three meals a day from the center and providing monthly food boxes of non-perishable items like peanut butter and canned vegetables. Families also receive monthly household goods, donated furniture, and hygiene kits.
Dani Caudill, a resident case manager at CHCC, said food demand has been on the increase. Distribution increased in April through June of this year and stayed well above the seasonal average, Caudill said. In April 2015, 87 food boxes and 901 to-go meals were distributed.
Caudill said demand usually drops in warmer weather. But that didn’t happen this spring, and Caudill isn’t sure why. Other food-pantry programs in the region have observed a similar trend, Caudill said.
CHCC employs six residential counselors, one case manager, and one part-time AmeriCorps service worker. Volunteers round out the center’s work force. Religious organizations provide funding and volunteer support.
But awareness of the center is not high, Caudill said. “I’ve lived here all my life and didn’t even know it was here before I started applying for jobs,” she said. Like many, she said she assumed that everyone had a place to go or family to rely on if they needed to.
Reasons for Homelessness in Hazard
A stereotype of rural areas is that there is always family support to help solve housing issues. But that’s not always the case.
“Most of the people that come to us come because they can no longer live with a friend or a family member,” Caudill said.
A frequent cause of local homelessness is a “love eviction,” Caudill said – when families or friends evict a loved one because of drug abuse. The region’s drug problem “contributes to a lot of it and is why families don’t want to be around certain individuals anymore,” Caudill said.
CHCC isn’t the only agency serving emergency needs in the rural area.
Other programs include the Office of Community Based Services, the Kentucky River Community Center, the L.K.L.P. Domestic Violence Safe House, and the New Hope Church food box program. Together, the agencies try to limit the effects of unemployment, drug abuse, and poverty in the region.
Though Foulon is from out of town, Caudill said most of her housing clients are from the Hazard area. Some are discharged patients from the psych center, hospitals, or other shelters nearby. She said that this type of homelessness could be due to poor discharge procedures and area’s lack of infrastructure and programs.
Foulon said he’s grateful for the help he has received.
“If it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t know where I’d be,” he said. “If you come here and you want to use it as a tool to get back on the straight and narrow, then this is the place to come.”