LEXINGTON, Ky. (OSV News) — In Lexington, Kentucky, situated in the heart of “bluegrass country” known for thoroughbred horse breeding farms, basketball and bourbon distilleries, are the people popularly nicknamed “the walking dead”: human beings with drug addiction or mental illness, and those with no home for rest.
They panhandle on street corners, wander along avenues bordering the University of Kentucky and sleep — day and night — at city bus stop shelters and the downtown transit center. They are just some of the many people of every age, race and sex afflicted by the epidemic of homelessness that exists across the U.S. from large cities to small towns.
Ginny Ramsey is director and co-founder of Lexington’s Catholic Action Center, an almost iconic community outreach facility, which offers homeless men and women shelter from the streets.
In March, Ramsey and her staff, along with many willing volunteers, launched a new housing initiative for people who are elderly or have disabilities — the Dignity Program — to complement another already existing in-house program, the Mother Teresa Shelter, which helps provide shelter, meals and community support for military veterans.
“We began the Catholic Action Center in 1999 at another location in Lexington, and have been here at our current, open 24/7 location since April of 2017, offering laundry, mail service, phone service and listening ears, all without any government funding,” Ramsey told OSV News.
The rooms at the Catholic Action Center are divided into male and female areas.
The general number of residents is 102 — or 31 women and 71 men — with one large room reserved for men. Each person sleeps in a bed and not on the floor. All residents admitted to the Catholic Action Center must be 18 years of age or older — and for people with pets, the center pays for a motel stay up to 30 days.
However, with the passage of almost 25 years since its inception, Ramsey said that “a different kind of homeless person has emerged than what existed when we started. People have many more challenges today, and more barriers than back in the early 2000s.”
“Things are not as cohesive as they were before,” she said. “Families are putting out people who are struggling, and especially older people, who cannot take care of themselves.”
“What I am talking about is ‘attitude’ — the problem with drugs has altered the human soul, and it is tragic,” Ramsey said. “Add to that the plight of our elderly and disabled before COVID (and after) along with rising rents, and there is an overwhelming need.”
The need is so great the Catholic Action Center had to ask for outside help — including volunteers and financial support — with the Dignity Program. The initiative, which launched March 1, transformed an area of the building into eight alcoves that offer privacy for people who are elderly or have disabilities and need special care.
“We had to ask people to support us because the cost of this transformation was over $30,000 — which for us was a lot — and a good bit of the money came from various donations,” Ramsey said.
Dave Buckles, who belongs to St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Lexington, told OSV News that he and his fellow Knights of Columbus helped to complete the eight alcoves in the Dignity Room.
“We were delighted to work at the CAC and help Ginny furnish the rooms for these elderly and homeless in the Dignity Program,” Buckles said. The Knights, he said, hope to return to “help with spring painting and do resurfacing of the tables in their general dining area.”
“We had to tackle a host of things in order to make the rooms safe and healthy, including redoing the entry to make it ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible,” Ramsey said.
And the fire marshal required us to provide special space for people with medical equipment needs.”
The ultimate goal of the new program is to have these first residents — and those who follow in their footsteps — eventually transition to an independent living situation.
“Right now, assessments are being done by our nurse practitioner … on those Dignity Room residents with health care needs, by reviewing their medical histories and background,” Ramsey added.
Ursuline Sister Clara Fehringer told OSV News she visits the Catholic Action Center and the Dignity Room every Thursday, “and I have already found my time there to be very, very, rewarding.”
“Mind you, it did take me one or two visits for them to open up to me, but hearing about their experiences and how they came to the center was worth it,” she said. “All of them hope to move on, but some of them know that it won’t be possible.”
“Even so,” she said, “I have never heard one negative word from anyone about the Catholic Action Center.”
Robert Alan Glover writes for OSV News from Kentucky.