A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Gena Bigler: Hope Center is there for those whose one bad decision changed their lives


Men at The Hope Center provide drumming entertainment this spring. (Photo from Hope Center)

Men at The Hope Center provide drumming entertainment this spring. (Photo from Hope Center)

 
“One little decision can change the rest of your life,” Jake, a peer mentor at the Hope Center, told a group of students from Sphinx Academy as he shared about his life.
 
After a motorcycle accident, he was prescribed pain medication that ultimately led the former athlete and artist down a path of addiction. He confided that one bad choice makes the next bad choice a little easier and advised the students to avoid that first bad decision.
 
Addiction and mental health issues contribute to an estimated 80 percent of homelessness. People from all walks of life are vulnerable. The Hope Center has housed homeless lawyers, doctors and professors. About 200 men sleep there each night.
 

Unfortunately, there are only 140 beds leaving the rest to “drag a mat” and sleep on it on the floor. When the weather is bad, the ranks can swell to 240. It is difficult to get an accurate count of how many homeless people are in the Lexington community, but a recent report from the Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness estimated about 1500 in Lexington alone.
 
The shelter is not what you might expect. The brick building resembles a school from the outside. A wide covered walkway welcomes visitors to a double set of glass doors. Just inside is a check-in table and a counter staffed by smiling personnel. The building is more than clean; it is spotless.
 

The Hope Center (Photo provided)

The Hope Center (Photo provided)

Bright lights shine on a beautiful mural by award-winning artist Enrique Gonzalez. The halls are quiet except for the hum of the laundry room and the low chatter of quiet conversation.
 
A few men are sleeping in preparation for working their third-shift jobs. A couple of men are resting in the hall while another loads a washer in the laundry room. Most smile or nod as visitors pass by.
 
This shelter is more than a building full of bunk beds; it is a resource center that addresses the core issues of homelessness.
 
The men have access to social workers who will assess their needs and options. There are laundry facilities available for them to clean their clothing. There are lockers that provide a safe place for personal belongings while the men work, look for work, go to medical appointments or attend to other life tasks that would be hindered by a wieldy backpack or bag.
 
There is an employment program and a special veteran’s program. There are facilities for non-medical detox and there is a clinic onsite, the result of a partnership with the Health Department.
 
The Hope Center is a complex of buildings that provide a series of complimentary services. Each service is targeted to helping the homeless help themselves and then help others. Jake, the peer mentor, went through the recovery program and now helps others get through it successfully.
 
The Jacobs cafeteria feeds about 200 people per meal. Breakfast and lunch are for the men served by the center. Dinner is open to any in need of a meal. This is likely where the Sphinx students will be volunteering this fall. Alongside other high school students from Bryan Station and Dunbar, the volunteers will serve food, clean tables and collect the empty food trays. When asked what they thought about the educational trip, one student replied, “It’s nice to know people are actually doing something to help.”
 
The student volunteers will learn the contentment of helping others and the gratification that comes from contributing to meet a societal need. They will know about the multifaceted problems that lead to homelessness. They will see firsthand the many and varied faces of homelessness.
 
Hopefully, their experience will leave them be better equipped to address the numerous societal problems that leave our neighbors without a bed of their own. Soon, the Sphinx students will also be doing something to help.
 
 

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.

 

Click here to read more columns from Gena Bigler.


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