Messner Home Closing
At the end of July, the Messner Home in Lexington suddenly closed, leaving 24 men who had been living there in need of housing. New Beginnings & New Vista were key Lex End Homelessness partners in getting 100% of the affected individuals rehoused.
It was the morning of July 7 when Christy Shuffet, executive director of New Beginnings, got a call that the Messner Home was closing at the end of the month. Ginny Ramsey, director of the Catholic Action Center, was calling community partners and organizing a last minute emergency meeting for the next day.
As Sarah, housing navigator and newest member at the team at New Beginnings, describes it, “I remember coming in on a Monday, and Anita (New Beginnings’ clinical director) was like, ‘hey Sarah, want to come with me over to this Messner House?’ And little did I know we would be knee deep in it for the next several weeks.”
When they got there, they had a list of 11 people who needed new housing. It quickly became evident that the list was actually much longer, and the need much greater, than they had initially realized over the phone. Every day they would go in and meet a new face who wasn’t on the list yet, until their initial list had more than doubled.
And so, the team got to work. Anita conducted interviews with the men to help determine the appropriate levels of care and Sarah shifted her entire remaining July schedule to help get all the things that were needed to transition to housing.
Lots of Challenges
Not only were they faced with a tight timeline and an increasingly large number of folks needing housing assistance, but the biggest challenge was in finding affordable housing in the Lexington area. As Tiffany Arrows Price, Regional Director of Specialty and Outreach Services with New Vista, notes, “Lexington is experiencing a critical shortage of affordable housing, which is a significant barrier to successfully housing our most vulnerable individuals.”
To make it even harder, many of the men didn’t have much of the basic documentation they needed, like birth certificates or social security cards, in order to get assistance in finding new housing. And as Tiffany reminds us, “something as simple as not having a valid ID can be a real barrier to housing.”
In addition to the challenges, they were faced with the realization that the current housing situation of the residents was also inadequate. The New Beginnings team describes residents who were paying up to $700 a month to live in a place where the bathrooms didn’t work, where folks couldn’t take warm showers, and where the mattresses were duct taped together and infested with fleas, lice, and bedbugs. At least four individuals needed a much higher level of care than they were getting, which the other men in the home had been stepping in to try their best to give. Conditions were dire, and it seems they’d been so for a long time.
Not Just Surviving Anymore
Despite all these challenges, this is a story that has a happy ending: New Beginnings, New Vista, and the community pulled together to help 24 men find housing and they are thriving. Veterans’ Affairs was actively involved in housing three of the residents and Rachel Petit with KY Protection and Advocacy was also an amazing advocate. As Tiffany says, “this is an incredible win for our community and speaks to the power of positive community partner collaboration.”
Sarah shared how one man told her that he never thought he’d get to live like this again, just enjoying daily life. Another who describes yesterday’s lunch of teriyaki chicken and pineapple as the best meal of his life after eating the same exact lunch of bologna sandwiches for years and years. She shares how she has witnessed “seeing them come into themselves again” after having lost a part of themselves, living in the situation they had been in. They are looking to the future, and they are hopeful.
As Sarah says, “they’re no longer just trying to survive, they’re able to live their lives.” “It brings tears to my eyes, the impact a good home has on people, and the way it allows them to just bloom,” she says.
And while the New Beginnings team is thankful for how things turned out, they also acknowledge that this effort took a huge emotional toll on those who were directly involved. “It’s still hard for all of us to really wrap our minds around the conditions these men were living in,” Christy says. “Everybody deserves a safe place to live, and they didn’t have that, even though they were housed.”
New Beginnings serves a population that they describe as underserved and, too often, misunderstood. Their clients experience mental illness, and often housing challenges and homelessness as an effect of that. The women who work here describe their work as “person centered,” and they take that mission seriously. As Anita says, “I wish people understood that the folks we work with, those with serious mental illness, are not dangerous. They are you and I.”
Sarah is still serving several of the men in their new housing, and shares that “I’m just incredibly grateful that these men chose to trust me. I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to get to know them and help them.” As she reminds us, “There’s no moral failing in being homeless, experiencing homelessness, losing your housing. We shouldn’t fault those experiencing serious mental illness over things they can’t control. They deserve the right to housing. They deserve the right to health.”
Christy echoes that sentiment, saying “Whether they have a mental illness, whether they have substance use disorders, whether a combination, whether none of it—everyone deserves a safe, decent home.”
We agree. Lex End Homelessness believes that housing is the solution to ending and preventing homelessness. To do this, LEH and its Continuum of Care partners like New Beginnings and New Vista take a “Housing First'' approach. Thanks to them and the community pulling together, the former Messner Home residents now do have safe decent housing.
Find out more about getting your organization involved with LEH and our “Housing First” mission as a partner at https://lexendhomelessness.com/partners/.