The annual survey of the homeless in Kentucky called K-Count reveals that people often end up on the street or in a shelter because of relationship or medical issues.
Some who have become homeless offered to take part in the survey when they were in a Bowling Green shelter on the evening of Jan. 29, when the 2020 K-Count took place.
On that night, seven women and 21 men seeking shelter arrived at Room in the Inn Bowling Green by the 5:30 p.m. registration time.
After those 28 guests had been transported to host churches for the night, program coordinator Sharli Rogers hopped into her car.
“I’m going to head over to a local restaurant where one of our guests works,” said Rogers. “I want to check in with her. I’m not sure if she’s going to stay with us tonight or not, and if not, I’m going to make arrangements for her to get with me in the morning so she can do the K-Count survey.”
K-Count is the survey of the homeless done each year at the end of January, coordinated by the Kentucky Housing Corporation. It's part of a "point-in-time" survey done across the U.S. to count the number of people in shelters, including domestic violence shelters, or sleeping in places not meant for human habitation. The data is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and helps determine federal funding for homeless programs.
Rogers knows that guests at Room in the Inn struggle to find affordable housing.
“Yeah, a lot of our guests work, particularly in the service industry,” said Rogers. "It takes about two-and-a-half service industry jobs to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Bowling Green.”
After the stop at the restaurant, Rogers checked out a parking structure and then benches in public parks, but didn't find anyone camped out there for the night.
A few blocks from Bowling Green’s Fountain Square, Rogers drove slowly past one house.
“There was a gentleman who’s been staying on this porch right here. He’s in a power wheelchair,” said Rogers. “I don’t see him tonight so hopefully he’s indoors, somewhere safe.”
Rogers then went to the faciltiy serving as host shelter for women, the Unitarian Church. That’s where Room in the Inn board member Teresa Ward assisted with K-Count. Ward went over the K-Count questions with Sara, 51, and her daughter, who is 25.
“OK, so in y’alls own words, what has caused you to become homeless?” asked Ward.
“My husband in July had a heart attack. He had a triple bypass surgery,” Sara said, growing emotional as she spoke. “About a month later, he decided, I know it’s from the surgery and things, but he left us. He was the only income and we lost our home.”
Sara said that happened after 29 years of marriage. She hasn’t worked in the past few years because of several back and shoulder surgeries and other medical issues.
“I mean it’s hard, because people want to judge you and look at you like, two grown women, what are they doing out here? I never had to worry,” said Sara. “This surgery that saved his life ruined mine, turned my life upside down.”
Another woman who offered to take part in K-Count was M.J., 51, who told Rogers her husband was at the men’s shelter.
“We had a house in Logan County,” said M.J. “My health went downhill, lost my job, my husband’s disabled.”
She said they lived in their car for six months. Before they became homeless, she was a cashier at a restaurant. M.J. said now she’s doing whatever temporary jobs she can get, like washing dishes and housekeeping.
"I never imagined I would end up homeless. I didn’t really," said M.J. "One day I’m healthy and I’m energetic, I did just like everyone else, I get up, I go to work, go home, a regular person thing. My health issues just hit and that’s all it took. That’s what people don’t realize, you know. It could happen to you. It could happen to anyone.”
M.J. said she’s filed lots of job applications and made a promise to herself.
“I’m gettin’ back up. I’m gonna get right back in there,” said M.J. “I’m not stayin’ homeless.”
By the time the K-Count data is analyzed over the next few months and the results are released, M.J. is determined that she and her husband will no longer be counted among Kentucky’s homeless.