Maria Price, the executive director of the St. John Center for Homeless Men, spoke at the grand opening of the city’s temporary storage facility on Monday. | Photo by Joe Sonka

The St. John Center for Homeless Men held a grand opening for its temporary storage facility for the homeless on Monday, part of the city’s effort to provide emergency services through surplus funds approved in December.

While the storage facility is already providing critical services for homeless individuals, its funding from the city runs out at the end of June and may be at risk of not being renewed in next year, as the city stares down a $35 million budget shortfall.

Located in the lot of the now-closed First Link Grocery on East Liberty — next to the Wayside Christian Mission homeless shelter and large outdoor encampments by the Jefferson Street underpass — the fenced-in facility contains four shipping containers full of 160 lockers and 70 bins that can be used by homeless individuals to store their personal items.

A temporary storage facility was identified as a crucial need by advocates participating in the city’s homeless task force last year, as individuals are often prohibited from bringing their personal items into overnight shelters.

The lack of access to storage not only limits their willingness to stay in a shelter during cold weather but also their ability to go to job interviews, work or doctor appointments without worrying about losing important documents and possessions.

Maria Price, the executive director of the St. John Center, spoke at the unveiling and thanked Metro Council for providing the funding that made the storage facility possible, as well as the collaboration between numerous city agencies and nonprofits.

“Until everyone in Louisville has appropriate housing so that they can store their important belongings in closets, cupboards and under the bed, we’re going to need a place like this,” said Price. “This is not ideal, but we hope this helps.”

In December, Metro Council appropriated $564,791 of surplus funds from the previous fiscal year for emergency homeless services through June 30, to go toward partner organizations providing temporary storage and shelter services.

The administration of Mayor Greg Fischer announced the specific plan to spend those funds just after the new year, including $45,791 for the St. John Center to set up and administer the storage facility.

Price said that since the temporary storage facility opened last week, 38 homeless individuals have stored some of their personal belongings, including eight veterans, 16 who are chronically homeless and two who reported fleeing domestic violence.

Individual lockers fill each of the four shipping containers in the homeless storage facility. | Photo by Joe Sonka

Eric Friedlander, the city’s chief resilience officer, said that the temporary storage facility was the last piece in place from the surplus spending plan on homeless services, as low-barrier shelters have already added more beds and new street outreach teams have served hundreds of the homeless in the past few months.

“We’ve got some challenging times ahead, but we have to make sure that these types of services are available so people of Louisville can know that they’re supported and valued,” said Friedlander.

Part of that challenge is now the city’s $35 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year beginning July 1, as an effort to raise over $20 million in new tax revenue was rejected by Metro Council last week.

Price noted that “there’s no funding committed for this project after June 30″ and was uncertain if Metro Council would continue such funding in its next budget, which must be passed at the council’s last meeting in June.

“We won’t give up easily, so we would have to raise the money somehow,” Price told Insider Louisville. “We can’t go back. We’re committed to making this work for the people who need it. We simply have to find the funding.”

In addition to the city funds to set up the storage facility — along with a $17,000 grant from the Honorable Order of the Kentucky Colonels — the St. John Center also received $95,000 from the city to create a street outreach team to identify homeless individuals who needed to be connected to services.

According to the St. John Center, since the new street outreach team was assembled in early February, they have served over 325 homeless individuals, helping them arrange overnight shelter, obtain identification documents and receive medical and mental health care.

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, D-4 — who sponsored and voted for the tax ordinance that failed last week — said it was “critical” for the emergency homeless services to be funded by Metro Council into the next fiscal year.

“We have worked very hard to get to this point and I think it’s going to be incumbent upon all of Metro Council to look seriously at some of the new programs and services we’re offering, including this storage facility for those experiencing homelessness,” said Sexton Smith. “This will literally change lives.”

Mayor Fischer is scheduled to present his proposed budget on April 25, but Sexton Smith said she has already started working through the budget line by line to calculate the long-term costs of each program or service that is cut.

“Cutting out some of these new programs for services for homelessness would simply produce more costs exponentially higher than the actual dollars spent for this,” she said.

The new storage facility operated by the St. John Center will be open five days a week during the following hours:

Monday: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Tuesday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wednesday: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Thursday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saturday: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]