Hope House closes, plans for future unclear at this time

The Hope House homeless shelter has officially been closed down, and maintenance has begun on the building.

After the brutal murder of a Hazard woman on July 14 in which the victim and the alleged murderer where both residents of the Hope House, Hazard Mayor Donald “Happy” Mobelini began holding weekly meetings in City Hall to address the situation, the homeless population and start the process of bringing various organizations together to collectively gather resources available for the homeless community.

It was during one of these meetings that it was confirmed that the Hope House has officially closed its doors.

“The homeless population is not new to Hazard,” said Mobelini, explaining that, for years, there have been many homeless people in the city, often residing in the Hope House homeless shelter, the parking structure and other places.

“There’s a misconception — every homeless person in town does not live in a shelter,” he said. “We have tons of abandoned houses, we have tons of bridges, we have a parking structure, we have a river bank, we have places behind the dollar store.”

What has changed though, Mobelini said, is the increasingly high amounts of homeless people entering the city from other counties and even states.

In an attempt to find a solution to this problem, Mobelini asked that all organizations and businesses who come in contact with the homeless population in any way meet and discuss what resources are available to the homeless. After everyone was introduced and explained their roles, the group formed a plan to make a comprehensive pamphlet with all the groups on it, their contact information and a list of services they offer. The group also spoke about the possibility of hiring a homeless liaison who will be in touch with all the organizations and homeless community daily.

Once made, this pamphlet, Mobelini said, will be used to better assist the homeless people in the city and help them find the resources they need, whether it be transportation, medical services, food or employment, among other things.

During the meetings, Mobelini also addressed some of the rumors going around town.

“The only way I know to address anything is just to address it,” said Mobelini, stating that he doesn’t like to entertain rumors or go by he said-she said, and would like to get the truth out in the open. “There’s several things going on about the homeless shelter and homelessness that is a straight rumor or myth and I’d like to address those.”

After much discussion between the different group representatives, some of the rumors regarding the Hope House were cleared away and it was confirmed that on July 24, the Hope House board of directors voted to disband and close the homeless shelter down.

Although he was unavailable to provide specific details as of press-time Wednesday, Ben Fugate, the lead pastor of Journey Christian Church and president of the Hope House Homeless Shelter, said he does hope to establish another homeless shelter in a different area out of city limits and at a later date.

Scott McReynolds, the executive director of the Housing Development Alliance, said that the Hope House property is owned by the HDA, and there is a lot that needs done before the building can be reoccupied. “The homeless shelter, in order to be occupied, has to have a fully functional fire alarm according to the fire marshal,” said McReynolds.

“It was our understanding that the alarm system is not fully functional, so we had requested that before it is reoccupied, they (Hope House representatives) provide us proof that it had been inspected by the appropriate authorities saying it was safe to occupy,” he continued.

Now that the Hope House board of directors have voted to dissolve, restructure and reopen somewhere else, McReynolds said, the HDA is trying to work on fixing the maintenance issues before opening the building as something else.

“Right now we’re just trying to secure it and then move forward. We don’t have any immediate plans,” said McReynolds. “It would be beneficial for it to be reoccupied in some form or fashion, whether it’s as a shelter or a commercial space or something else. There’s some maintenance that needs to be done on it, but obviously until we know what the next use of the building is going to be we at this point in time will just secure it and keep the property clean until we figure out what happens next.”

After the Hope House was initially closed down due to threats against Fugate and the Hope House residents, the city partnered with local law enforcement and LKLP to provide safe transportation of residents to shelters in other counties.

“When it (the Hope House) first closed we did assist with that (transportation),” said Hazard Police Department Chief of Police Minor Allen. “As far as the actual transportation, they (the city) contracted with LKLP to do that. LKLP took them, we just basically assisted.”

Robin Gabbard, chief operating officer at LKLP, said they provided the transportation of the Hope House residents to shelters in other counties after being approached by city officials, because they are considered a trusted source of transportation.

“We did transport people to other counties at the request of the City of Hazard,” said Gabbard. “We are the natural ally for anyone looking to transport, whether it be one person or multiple people, and so when faced with this issue that evening, the mayor reached out and asked us as a good community partner if we’d be willing to assist him.”

Gabbard said LKLP has not assisted with any transports since then, but they do offer some services that the remaining homeless population may be able to use.

“We don’t offer a lot of direct services to the homeless population, but there are some (services) that they would be eligible for,” said Gabbard. “LKLP staff works hard to connect people with community resources to improve their quality of life. Whether it be transportation to a homeless shelter in a neighboring community, food boxes or a referral to a local food pantry, Goodwill vouchers for clothing, or a referral to the domestic violence shelter if needed, we strive to meet needs as best we can, while meeting our mission as an organization.”

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