The Healing Place’s new men’s shelter is slated to be fully opened in January. Here it is seen next to the original men’s shelter. | Courtesy of the Healing Place

When Jay Davidson joined the Healing Place as executive director in 1991, the homeless shelter and addiction recovery center had 80 beds for men and women. After its new $29 million men’s facility on West Market Street is completed in December, the nonprofit will boast 1,000 beds across three Louisville campuses — the men’s facility and an outpatient recovery center at 10th and Market streets, and a women’s facility at 15th and Hill streets.

The Healing Place’s detox and long-term recovery program served more than 8,000 people in 2017. Davidson said the nonprofit is able to provide these services for less than $25 a person because much of the work in the shelter and the recovery classes is done by former addicts who receive a nominal fee and free room and board.

Construction of the men’s facility — which includes a homeless shelter, detox and a recovery program — was funded by $10 million in low-income tax credits and a $19 million capital campaign. Phase I of the project was completed in December 2017 with 250 clients moving from the Healing Place’s original center next door into the first wing of the new facility.

Phase II will add nearly 200 beds to the program, Davidson said, so the men’s facility will be able to accommodate 426 men from detox to completion of the recovery program.

Even with the extra beds, Davidson said he expects the facility to be filled to capacity on a daily basis because homelessness and addiction are intrinsically linked.

It is sometimes hard to separate the cause and effect between the two problems, he said, because even if a person is not chemically-dependent before being homeless, the emotional and psychological distress of the situation often leads to negative behavior.

“It is tough living on the streets. You might decide you need a temporary relief and that is what a chemical does for you. We saw the opiate epidemic hitting Louisville long before it became a media item. In 2012 or 13, we realized we needed to expand our capacity for detox. At that time, we had 24 beds for men detoxing and 24 beds for women detoxing. We were meeting the demand for women but the demand for men was horrendous. We were turning away 200-300 men a month because the beds were full 24/7,” Davidson explained.

According to the Coalition of the Homeless, local outreach workers and homeless service agencies helped more than 6,000 homeless people in 2017. Davidson said Louisville’s actual homeless population is probably larger than that because of undocumented people outreach workers might have missed and the homeless who avoid contact with social service agencies all together.

“The real hard-core homeless that live on the street are really into that independent solitary life. Those are the ones that have chosen to live in camps or live under the bridge. The newly homeless are usually a lot more mobile, they are in their cars moving from home to home. It is hard to get an accurate count of those groups, but I don’t think the homeless population is growing overall. It is changing its composition. It is getting younger. That has a lot to do with the opioid epidemic,” Davidson explained.

Jay Davidson, Chairman of the Healing Place, said his nonprofit expects to be part of the revitalization of the Russell neighborhood. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

There are five overnight homeless shelters in Louisville (St. Vincent DePaul, Salvation Army, Wayside Christian Mission, the Center for Women and Families and Volunteers for America) and a number of day shelters. What makes the Healing Place unique is its low-barrier approach.

Davidson said the Healing Place defines homelessness simply as not having a mortgage or rental agreement in your name. And while most shelters will not accept clients while they are under the influence of drug or alcohol, he said, the Healing Place is a wet shelter so all the staff expects from the clients is that they behave themselves.

“We know they all come with baggage, so we don’t need to ask,” Davidson said. “Any issues will present themselves down the road. All we want to do is get them in the program so they can start learning how to deal with life without resorting to a chemical.”

The low-barrier approach has made the Healing Place one of the most effective long-term recovery programs in the nation. A study conducted by the University of Kentucky Center on Drug and Alcohol Research found that 75 percent of those who enter its program remain sober one year after completion.

The model has also been replicated in 14 Recovery Kentucky facilities across the state as well as in centers located in Richmond, Va., and Raleigh, N.C. However, Davidson said the center has had trouble expanding its recovery services in Louisville outside of the West End because of residents who believe the center will attract drug addicts and homeless people to their communities.

A homeless encampment under the I-264 overpass on Jefferson Street. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Davidson said there have actually been charges that the Healing Place is bringing in large numbers of homeless people from other states. He said this idea came about after the former Louisville program director Al Jackson took the same position at a Healing Place facility in Richmond, Va., a few years ago.

On occasion, Davidson said, Jackson would send a client who failed in Richmond to Louisville in hope that a change of environment would help them. Davidson said this is a common practice among recovery programs. He did not know how many people came from Richmond to Louisville, but he said the practice has stopped. However, a small number of Richmond clients are still showing up in the Louisville facility.

“Now, somebody from Richmond comes to Louisville, goes through our program and is successful becomes a good community citizen here in Louisville. Guess what, they still have ties in Richmond, so what’s the message back to Richmond? We have no control over that,” he said.

The majority of the homeless population in Louisville comes from Louisville or the surrounding counties, including Southern Indiana, Davidson said. Natalie Harris, director of the Coalition for the Homeless, backs up his assertion.

“If you look at our numbers, the majority of people come from Jefferson County or the counties around here that don’t have their own resources. Homelessness happens because you’re poor,” Harris told Insider. “The statistics from the homeless management information system show about half the people who are homeless in the system come from the 10 ZIP codes where the majority of the poverty is in our community. Mostly, west and south Louisville.”

With new the men’s facility set to be completed soon, Davidson said the Healing Place would like to be a part of the revitalization efforts going on in west Louisville. He is excited about the Opportunity Zones, which allow private investors to get federal tax credits for investing in the area.

“We want to be a partner for that revitalization and do what we can to help the West End upgrading the housing and helping the homeless become homeowners,” he said. “That’s the true measure of wealth if you own something, renting is not wealth. We are interested in doing what we can to help entrepreneurs in the West End to provide housing for homeless individuals that able to go through the financial training to get a mortgage, to be able to buy a relatively inexpensive homes.”

Davidson said he is not worried about the Healing Place being displaced by gentrification in the West End because of its long history in the area.

“We’re ensconced here at 10th and Market. We’ve been here since 1980. We have a great relationship with all of our neighbors. We are in place,” he said.

Michael L. Jones
Michael L. Jones, a freelance journalist and author, covers communities for Insider Louisville. His latest book "Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee" (History Press) received the 2014 Samuel Thomas Book Award from the Louisville Historical League. In addition to his contributions to Insider, his writing appears regularly in LEO Weekly, Louisville Magazine, Food & Dining – Louisville Edition, and Who’s Who Louisville: African American Profiles. He also sits on the board of directors of the National Jug Band Jubilee. Jones and his wife, Melissa Amos-Jones, a physical therapist, live in the Kenwood Hills neighborhood near Iroquois Park.


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