The recent experience of a homeless shelter in Frankfort, Kentucky highlights how community values and on-the-ground experience are sometimes a better guide for serving those in need than policy directives from Washington, DC — even those informed by good intentions and research on apparent best practices.
The Franklin County Women and Family Shelter (FCWFS) is one of several homeless shelters in Frankfort. Opened a decade ago to address rising homelessness driven in part by opioid and meth epidemics that have devastated many parts of the state, it operates on a shoestring annual budget of $200,000 while helping very low-income women, often with serious substance use disorders, get off the streets and back on their feet. Last year, its staff — a part-time director, one full-time case manager and a two part-time workers and volunteers — provided shelter to 93 people, including 73 adults and 20 children.
To be eligible for shelter, adults are expected to work or participate in services to the degree they can. Drug treatment is generally available in the area, and the shelter maintains a zero tolerance policy for substance use. Typical stays average about ten weeks and include intensive case management to address issues causing the homelessness. This is followed by help in finding an apartment or another permanent living option. Participants are then eligible for “rental assistance, services, and support for at least eight months after a woman or family with children leaves the program.”
However, because of federal rules, one current resident of the shelter — let’s call her Rosie to protect her privacy — could well lose all hope for a good future. Rosie has spent much of her adult life using drugs on the streets. The daughter of a single mother also an addict, Rosie began using at age 15. Evicted by her sister when she refused to enable her substance use, Rosie turned to FCWFS for help. On a recent visit, Rosie had been clean for over two months (what she calls “getting away from the madness”).