Emergency Shelter opens doors for winter, begins work on new location

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

With winter quickly approaching, the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky (ESNKY) has opened its doors to sheltering for the season — with new restrictions bringing some welcome and some unwelcome guidelines.

Kim Webb, executive director, said the winter shelter opened Nov. 1 for adult men and women, with 24 beds in the facility. Safe sheltering guidelines have been changed by the Center for Disease Control, reducing occupancy because of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to practice social distancing.

Mrs. Webb said they’re still providing much the same services, including showers, beds and food, but the set-up looks much different. There are no congregant areas for guests, so when they come in they are each assigned to a bed and a room, with shower curtains in the doorways and required face masks at all times. Father Michael Comer and parishioners from Mother of God continue to provide meals, but they’re brought to the rooms rather than shared in the communal space.

The Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky opened its doors for winter sheltering with 24 available beds on Nov. 1 at its Scott Street location.

“It’s going well… it’s not an ideal situation and I know we’re not the only ones dealing with it,” said Mrs. Webb. “Our volunteering is down, because there’s a level of concern… people are afraid to come, but we’re hopeful that volunteering picks up… when COVID goes down.”

Mrs. Webb and the shelter have been consistently providing services since March, though they did shut down for two weeks during the shelter-in-place order, because it was determined to be safer for guests to be outside than in. They creatively used the Northern Kentucky Convention Center to provide beds until the weather warmed up for the summer. It was also a location where people could wash their hands and perform basic hygiene when the world was shut down.

“The need is great, and more and more people are facing homelessness, not because of a choice that they made, but because of COVID — loss of jobs, medical bills, unable to work because they have to care for a family member… all these things. It’s really going to be a challenging time in our community regarding being able to provide a safe place for people to sleep,” said Mrs. Webb.

Now that the shelter is back at the Scott Street location for this winter, Mrs. Webb is looking to the newly purchased location, a project that had to be put on hold this year due to COVID-19. She was also waiting for the city of Covington to update its zoning code, which gave the shelter greater permissions. When ESNKY signed the lease in late October, they received a conditional use permit — a type of permit newly allowed by the updated zoning code, called the Neighborhood Zoning Code.

“It’s a huge win, it really shows how forward-thinking Covington is… the hope is that other cities in Northern Kentucky will follow suit for that piece of that because it is a huge accomplishment,” said Mrs. Webb.

Demolition on the building currently on the property began Nov. 9, and construction will follow shortly after with the assistance of PCA Architecture and Furlong Building. Mrs. Webb and her staff plan for a September 2021 move-in date.