A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky is saving lives, changing lives; helps guests stay warm, safe

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune reporter

“Happy” is how the guests of the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky (ESNKY) describe the space according to Kim Webb, Executive Director. Staff at the shelter make the space feel welcoming, like home. Here guests share a meal and converse with friends while having a safe place to sleep. More than a bed to sleep on, there are chairs to pull up for conversation, a TV to watch, or a place to take a smoke break.

ESNKY serves men and women primarily from the Northern Kentucky area ages 18 and up. Consistently operating at full capacity, an average of 75 guests stay per night during the winter months.

Additionally, the shelter collaborates with and accepts guests referred by hospitals, jails and police, those struggling with addiction, and handicapped.

Kim Webb explains those using their services are guests, entering and exiting through the front door. The shelter is there to be that first bed, an emergency bed. Their goal is to have no one suffer or die outside.

During the winter months, November through March, the shelter opens 75 beds, 58 for men and 17 for women.

Nationally, 70% of the homeless who seek shelter are men.

Kim Webb explains that’s on trend locally, so the beds are divided accordingly. In cases of extreme cold, the shelter can add extra mats, but even that has its limits. In those cases, the shelter will remain open 24 hours. Last winter, the shelter had 17 days of 24 hours, nine of those consecutive.

It is an ‘Entry and Exit’ shelter, people can go into sleep, exit in the morning, and if needed, receive help.

However, it is so much more.

In addition to a safe place to sleep, the ESNKY offers other services including, goal setting, financial planning, social services referrals, recovery beds, shower to laundry, and gaining health services.

On staff is a Street Outreach Worker, connecting with individuals who may not be able to shelter. In some instances ESNKY may not be open, not enough beds, or the person has a pet; the Street Outreach Worker will connect individuals to resources.

“It takes effort and patience helping those in crises,” says Kim Webb.

The staff there are flexible, work with guests’ one on one, helping them navigate through services.

When guests arrive, they’re served a hot meal. Individuals and groups utilize an online calendar to sign up to prepare and serve meals. Also, guests have the opportunity to take a shower. The number of users is limited to 20 and are timed to maximize the number of participants. Guests receive snacks and in the morning have cereal for breakfast, coffee, and milk.

The shelter collects clothing and toiletries to provide throughout the year. Anyone in need can go there to get a coat, hat, gloves, shirts, pants, or toiletries. Currently, their biggest needs are sweatpants and sweatshirts, which are unisex.

A different approach the ESNKY has undertaken is the Recovery Beds program. Housing Navigator Zach Rechtin works with 10 men who are serious about getting from homeless to house. To be a part of the program men must apply, be working, maintain sobriety, and keep to other stricter rules than those using emergency beds. During their time guests must save up to 70% of their income or if disabled still saving but volunteering in the community.

This program continues in the summer after the cold shelter closes. They maintain 30 Recovery Beds and 14 emergency shelter beds, open to men only in the evening.

During the summer months, the shelter runs a shower to laundry program. Monday through Friday, 20 hours a week, men and women who are homeless or living in substandard housing can go to the shelter for a shower and have their laundry done. Webb sees a rising number of people who are working, have housing but do not access to utilities.

Summer Street Outreach is another way ESNKY is changing lives. The Social Worker goes to a specific location each day of the week, every week. There, she connects to individuals, builds relationships, and makes people feel comfortable. Whether it’s in Goebel Park, Parish Kitchen, or the library, people know where she will be and check in with her. She hands out hygiene products, clothes, and makes referrals for services.

A Shelter Service Coordinator handles the winter shelter piece, making sure guests are connected to services, finding needed assistance. She checks in with them, helping to navigate tasks such as acquiring a birth certificate, case management, or if homeless for a while, finding out if they’re eligible for federally funded programs that other organizations provide, and gaining access to mental health help.

Director Kim Webb proudly states that the shelter runs on a $420,000 a year budget. She cheerfully shares she can “do a whole lot on a whole little.”

Primarily funded by private dollars, the shelter receives some funding from grants and foundations and a small percentage from the Fiscal Courts of Boone, Campbell, and Kenton Counties along with the mental health courts.

ESNKY is a 501(c)3 non-profit. Just $22 will put one guest in a bed one night. Only $10 funds one person in the shower to laundry program.

Kenton County owns the building the shelter is currently housed allowing all donations go to keep the shelter open, pay the bills and the small staff.

Financial donations are always in need. Time is another. Volunteers are needed day or night in a variety of ways. Sorting, tagging sizes and organizing donated clothing is one task. Signing up on the shelter’s online calendar to cook a summer meal is another. Coordinate a fund drive at work or school. Donate items to the shelter. They have a list of Recurring Daily-Use needs. Check their Facebook page every Wednesday to see the post of dire-needs items.

If you have an interest in volunteering call ESNKY at 859.291.4555 to talk about your ideas and how you’re willing to help.

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