Community Action Council (CAC)—Lex End Homelessness (LEH) Continuum of Care partner— is a private, nonprofit organization that works to address the causes and conditions of poverty locally. CAC creates opportunities for individuals and families to become self-sufficient. To do this, CAC focuses its resources on child and youth development, family development (including social and economic self-sufficiency), employment strategies, health, transportation, safety net (emergency) services, and housing services. During the height of the pandemic, CAC was on the front lines working in several ways to help individuals and families impacted by the pandemic. To help Lexingtonians at risk of eviction, CAC, with the support of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and other community partners, began implementing the Housing Stabilization Program, which utilized federal funding to pay rent and help Lexington households impacted by COVID-19 stay in their homes.
At the same time, CAC, in partnership with the city of Lexington’s Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention began providing temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness. When the local network of established shelters had reached their capacity due to the need for social distancing, CAC began working with vacant hotels to provide temporary shelter to individuals experiencing homelessness during the coldest weather months, but also worked with individuals to find permanent housing, employment, and access healthcare services.
One way CAC plays a pivotal role in ending homelessness is by securing grant funds that support the direct-service work happening in our community, like those described earlier. These often behind-the-scenes efforts are integral to tackling the root causes of homelessness.
To learn more about the wide range of opportunities the CAC provides to our region, we spoke with Melissa Tibbs, Director of Sustainability at CAC. We also learned about her journey to her current position and why what CAC does for our community matters. Our conversation is below.
- Tell us a little bit about yourself – personal, professional, or anything else you’d like to share about who you are.
I am the Director of Sustainability at the Community Action Council (CAC). As part of my responsibilities, I oversee a team that writes grants to help fund our initiatives, which is one way CAC interfaces with LexEndHomelessness. Like other Community Action Agencies, CAC was formed just after the signing of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 to identify and address the causes of poverty in a region, which for us, in addition to Lexington-Fayette County, includes the three rural counties of Bourbon, Harrison, and Nicholas.
In my current role as Director, I serve as part of CAC’s senior leadership team and am charged with overseeing grant development, communication, fundraising, and the agency’s advocacy efforts.
- How did you get involved with your current role and/or homelessness advocacy more broadly?
I moved to Kentucky about 12 years ago and began working for CAC having worked primarily within the field of Early Childhood Special Education up until that point. But, like so many of my colleagues, I have a passion for helping others, and I parlayed my work history as a sometimes grant writer into full-time work to fuel the mission of CAC by securing new grant revenue. There was then and remains now a strong need for securing resources to provide direct and wraparound support to people experiencing homelessness, which now as the Director, remains one of my primary objectives for my grant writing team.
- What does a typical day of work look like for you?
There isn’t a typical day. Each day involves all different kinds of tasks! I spend a lot of time planning and researching. In particular, I do extensive reading about decision-making that’s happening locally and nationally to stay abreast of new resources that may be coming available.
My grant writing team usually spends their days working under a grant deadline so much of what we do is fast-paced and time-sensitive. As an anti-poverty organization, we focus much of our grant writing efforts on strengthening early childhood education, expanding workforce development, and increasing housing, and homelessness support services, among a few other constructs.
- Why is the work you do important? What is the value of the work you do?
If I had to give just one example of the value of CAC and its staff it would be this:
Often, people come to us when they are in a crisis. When a person is experiencing a crisis, they may only be able to focus on one thing, and we understand that. Our staff members are trained and equipped to work with an individual or family to meet that presenting need–but then once it’s been met or a solution has been identified, our staff can continue to work with the person or family to identify what other needs they may have that by connecting them to other resources or programs may help move them out of crisis and into more stable circumstances.
Every day, CAC is doing the important work to create an equitable and thriving community for everyone that lives here. We are meeting many needs in our area, and helping one person and one family at a time.
- What is one thing you wish Lexington community members knew about homelessness?
I wish that more people knew that poverty and homelessness affect us all, not just those who are experiencing it. When people are unable to meet their basic needs and reach their full potential, we all miss out on the better world they could have helped build through their contributions.
I am thankful for this initiative to help tell and share the stories of people experiencing homelessness, and the human service organizations working to help.