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Women, kids' shelter to close

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

Joyann Beverly hadn't even turned 18 when she felt she'd reached the end of the road.

Beverly and her mother were struggling financially. They'd bounced around, staying with family, friends and at a hotel. They found a homeless shelter in Cairo, Ill., but a flood forced them to leave.  

"There was nothing. There was nobody. There was nowhere else to go," Beverly, now 20, recalled. "At one point, I gave up and didn't want to go any further."

Around 2012, the two found Paducah Cooperative Ministry's emergency shelter for women and children. Once she turned 18, Beverly transitioned into the adult housing program, where staff gave her not only the housing, but the support she needed to become independent. She said that when she entered the shelter, she felt "broken," but she now lives on her own, with a car and a part-time job at Cracker Barrel.

"The hardest thing was knowing that my own family didn't want to help, but people who didn't even know me opened their hearts and treated me like I was family," she said.

But now, the shelter that has produced success stories such as Beverly's may close because of federal housing regulations. PCM received notice May 6 that it could no longer accept people into the shelter, which has been operating for 24 years, and that current tenants - eight single women, four mothers and nine children - will have to leave by October.

That's because the seven units PCM has been renting from the Paducah Housing Authority do not fit federal definitions for special purpose units, said Cal Ross, the housing authority's executive director.

Special purpose units, Ross explained, are those that are not occupied by low- or moderate-income tenants eligible for public housing. Per federal Housing and Urban Development regulations, the housing authority is allowed to designate only two units out of every 100 for special purpose use, and it has already exceeded that amount, Ross added.

"We are very sensitive to the needs of the homeless people, and especially the women and children served by PCM," Ross said. "But we can no longer let somebody else use our apartments for their own homeless program, and that's the issue."

Ross said he will present the housing authority board with a new admissions policy that gives more points to the homeless, effectively moving them up on the waiting list for low-income housing. But he acknowledged that the measure, which would become effective immediately if approved at a June 19 meeting, does not offer immediate relief for people now facing homelessness.

Staff at Paducah Cooperative Ministry say they appreciate the effort, but note that the women and children they serve need help now. The process of even getting placed on a waiting list for low-income housing can take weeks or months, PCM Executive Director Heidi Suhrheinrich said.

"We appreciate that Mr. Ross sees the urgency, but we don't see that as a solution at this point," she said. "We're putting these folks at risk (by closing)."

Since receiving the notice last week, PCM has turned down 11 single women and 13 mothers with a total of 29 children between them, Homeless Housing and Case Manager Candace Melloy said.

"Most of the time, as soon as we have a bed open, it's filled," she said.

The next closest option for single women with children is the Lighthouse Women's Home in Mayfield, but the smaller facility is usually packed, Melloy said. If there's no space there, PCM has to refer single women seeking shelter to facilities as far away as Louisville and Nashville, Tenn.

PCM has asked for the housing authority to give them more time, but Melloy doubts they'll receive it.  PCM staff aren't sure what to do next, but say they hope people will see homelessness as an issue that affects the entire community.

"Desperation sets in, and then you start having all kinds of societal issues," such as crime, domestic violence and child abuse, Suhrheinrich said. "Everybody's going to be impacted by it."

She continued: "It doesn't have to be Paducah Cooperative Ministry that provides shelter, but someone needs to."

For Beverly, who has personally experienced the benefits of the shelter, the thought of its closing brings tears to her eyes.

"If I could give back everything I have now just to see people have the things that I have, I would," she said.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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