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Louis Ashmore spends nearly every day from the time it opens until closes at the Hardin County Public Library in Elizabethtown.
He reads newspapers and western paperbacks all day in the plush chairs near the back of the building.
He can’t get a library card because he lives under a tarp in the woods.
Ashmore and others with no place to go may have a new option with establishment of a shelter at Powerhouse of Praise and Deliverance Church in Radcliff. The shelter is scheduled to open by the end of the month.
It will include five single rooms and a family room to house people on a first-come, first-served basis for up to three months. Meals, counseling, job skills training, life skills training and other resources will be provided. Plans call for 24-hour staffing.
Money to convert the church basement into a shelter was raised through car washes, bake sales and other efforts, and supplemented by donations and labor from area businesses and residents, project manager Deacon Zane Harris said.
“We’re trying to get God’s people off the street,” he said.
Officials hope one day to move the church to a new building and use the main floor of its current location to house more residents in need of shelter.
The church already receives phone calls every day from people who need help and want to know if the shelter is accepting residents, Harris said.
“We’re looking for God to do a miracle, a wonderful thing,” he said.
Those who can’t find room in the new shelter have to take advantage of other services and buildings open to the public.
Rene Hutcheson, director of the Hardin County Public Library, said some people who are homeless spend time in libraries to seek safe shelter, especially libraries in urban areas.
That’s true in Hardin County as well. Even more people in such situations tend to spend time at the library when the weather is cold, she said.
Library buildings are open to the public, so the homeless are allowed to stay as long as the buildings are open.
Often, they pass time using a computer or reading books, newspapers and magazines, Hutcheson said.
“It’s reassuring to know they have a place to get out of the elements for a little while,” she said.
Ashmore said the library is a good place to stay warm and to read during the time he isn’t looking for a job.
The Wisconsin native lost long-term work in factories there because of layoffs and outsourcing.
Unable to find a job in his home state, Ashmore decided to ride with a relative to North Carolina to look for work. He knew the move would mean he’d be living on the streets.
What he didn’t know is how difficult that would make getting a job.
He said employers are hesitant to hire him because he doesn’t have an address and uses a bicycle for transportation, which makes them think he might not stick around long.
There is nowhere for employers to mail tax information and other important documents and no place for the government to send food assistance or other forms of benefits.
Ashmore didn’t have a phone until one recently was donated to him. Until then, potential interviewers had no way of getting in touch with him.
He’s qualified to work in a factory, but those jobs are dwindling in a changing economy. Also, he can’t afford to buy steel-toed boots, essential to factory work and not supplied by employers. At age 50, he’s also worried he can’t do all the same work he used to perform.
Ashmore met a homeless couple in North Carolina, a 68-year-old woman and 64-year-old man. The three of them followed a tip that there was work and the possibility of benefits in Mobile, Ala.
The trip took four-and-a-half months by bike because the older couple, especially the woman, had difficulty, Ashmore said.
“Every time there was a hill, I took it three times,” he said. “I’d ride up it, park my bike, walk down and helped push her up.”
The travelers slept in a state park and looked for other safe places to camp. They finally reached Mobile and were able to use the North Carolina man’s Social Security benefits to rent a motel room. Ashmore stayed with them until he landed a job cleaning rooms.
“I thought things would be better,” he said.
The only place he could find to camp was several miles from his job. He lost that job when he couldn’t make the bike ride to work one day.
Ashmore started toward his sisters’ home in Indiana. He stopped in Elizabethtown when the weather was getting colder and his sisters had a change in situation that meant there wasn’t a place for him.
He likes Elizabethtown. He thinks Freeman Lake Park is pretty and the community is nice. He eats at Warm Blessings soup kitchen and is rarely hungry.
Many people are willing to give food. Fewer are prepared to offer a place to stay, Ashmore said.
He stays at the library during the day and goes to Pritchard Community Center or Wal-Mart in Elizabethtown at night before sleeping in a camp-quality sleeping bag under a tarp, both of which were given to him by a man at his church.
Police have politely told him to move at times.
People sometimes seem frightened of him. He understands that. They don’t know him.
“I worry about that a lot, being found,” he said.
He also doesn’t know the people with whom he crosses paths.
Ashmore doesn’t want to wake up one night with police or someone violent looming over him. Before coming to Elizabethtown, he had twice returned to his camp to find all his possessions gone.
Ashmore said he can’t be afraid when he lives the way he does.
“If you’re going to sleep anywhere and everywhere, you’ve just got to hope for the best,” he said.
Ashmore still hasn’t found a job and hasn’t slept in a bed in more than six months.
It’s getting harder for him to stay hopeful that he’ll one day have a job and a home.
He knows what he’d do if he ever had a home and met someone in his situation.
“I would take them home, give them a place to stay,” he said.
Hutcheson said the reaction of other patrons to the presence of people who appear homeless is pleasantly surprising.
Some give those in need money and clothes or offer to drive them places.
One patron helped a man with no home at the library land a job and find an apartment.
Circulation Manager Charlotte Bragdon said the man had come in every day to use the computers and clean himself using the bathroom sink until a patron began speaking to him and offered to help.
Suddenly, the homeless man stopped coming and the patron who helped him talked about what a great worker the man was, she said.
“We haven’t seen him but once,” she said. “We were all excited when he came.”
Police try to help people they pass on patrol who seem to have no place to go when it’s cold.
The Elizabethtown and Radcliff police departments partner with Helping Hand of Hope to put people in that situation who are willing into local motels to make sure they’re not in danger.
Officers can’t force people to accept the help.
Helping Hand provides both police departments with vouchers to use at local motels after office hours or during the weekend until the organization opens and a representative can work with the person to meet that person’s needs.
Helping Hand Executive Director David Dozer said he begins by asking what their stories are.
“Everyone has a story,” he said.
One woman helped by the organization was a former teacher of 20 years whose car had been repossessed with everything she had in it.
Helping Hand, with help from God, found her a nice apartment with $300 per month rent and employment, Dozer said. The organization also reclaimed and returned the items from the car.
It’s important to teach people to take responsibility and do what they can to take care of themselves. Sometimes they need help besides that, Dozer said.
He estimates the local homeless population fluctuates between 25 and 40. Because Interstate 65 runs through Elizabethtown, Dozer said a significant number of people without homes pass through.
A state count from 2011, the last time volunteers conducted a complete count, showed that 24 of the state’s 2,834 people who were homeless were in Hardin County.
The report defined the local homeless as nine in emergency situations, 14 transitional and one unsheltered.
Of the 24 counted as homeless in Hardin County, two were chronically homeless and one was a veteran.
The county had the 10th-highest population among the counties of people who were homeless and severely mentally ill and the 11th-highest population of domestic violence victims who were homeless.
Dozer tries to get the people he speaks with to call their families to ask for help or at least let them know they’re alive. Many refuse.
“They’re all running toward something or away from something,” he said.
Helping Hand makes sure those helped by police are clothed and fed. If more long-term help is needed, employees buy them bus tickets to the nearest shelters in Louisville or Bowling Green.
There is a need for a shelter in the area, Dozer said.
RPD public information officer Bryce Shumate doesn’t know of any instances when a person in need of shelter has turned down help from police or Helping Hand. He thinks it probably happens sometimes.
“When that happens, you just have to trust that they know what they’re doing,” he said.
Shumate said the 20-year partnership with Helping Hand and North Hardin HOPE before that has been wonderful.
“We know that we don’t have to have somebody out there,” he said.
Officers sometimes transport people to Louisville shelters or take them as far as West Point so officers there can drive them the rest of the way, Shumate said.
Several officers have brought meals and coffee paid for with their own money to people who appear homeless, he said.
Shumate said officers like to look at the positive side of helping people in desperate situations, but they know it also is a form of crime prevention.
It isn’t unusual for those arrested on charges of burglary or shoplifting to say they committed the crimes to feed their families or fulfill other basic needs, he said.
“That’s heartbreaking, but our job is to uphold the law,” he said.
People who are homeless are even more likely to be the victims of crime because of their vulnerability. It’s important to make sure they’re safe and healthy, Shumate said.
“Just because people are down and out does not mean you turn your back on them,” he said.
Several area churches also try to help homeless through efforts such as providing food and clothing, Shumate said.
EPD spokesman Virgil Willoughby said there are different factors for each situation when it comes to helping the homeless, such as whether they’re from the county or are new to the area.
Not many people in Elizabethtown are homeless without shelter, and there aren’t many calls for assistance from people who face that situation, he said.
Many of the people in the area categorized as homeless pay extended stay rates at motels to have shelter.
Hardin County Coroner Dr. William Lee doesn’t know of any deaths in the area related to winter weather among the homeless population.
Giving temporary shelter and sending people with long-term cases to areas that have shelters have been the only recourses for years to deal with people in danger from winter weather because there has been no shelter for them, even during emergency weather conditions.
Warm Blessings leaders hope to one day set up a shelter that will accommodate people during extreme heat and cold.
They are trying to proceed toward that goal in a financially responsible way, while continuing to offer meals, laundry and shower services they currently provide to people in need, executive director Linda Funk said.
A 2009 survey showed that about 20 percent of the people being served by Warm Blessings had been homeless during the past year
Causes for homelessness vary, but they often appear to be related to losing jobs or not being able to pay the cost of living, Funk said.
She said, “When it really gets extreme, though, it’s quite dangerous for people, and what’s available in our community now doesn’t seem to meet the need.”
Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or email@example.com.