SPECIAL REPORT: Shelters struggle to house the growing homeless population in Warren County

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The homeless population in Warren County is changing, and not for the better; it continues to grow and there aren’t enough shelters to house everyone.

“It can happen to anybody. It can happen that quick, and it does and it did,” John Justice, homeless in Bowling Green.

John and his daughter Marley are staying at the Salvation Army in Bowling Green.

“I dropped the ball. I lost my job, and I couldn’t find one fast enough to stop us from being evicted. From being evicted we didn’t have a place to go,” said Justice.

John was working as a tattoo artist, and for reasons he didn’t want to share, he lost his job. He currently works at Walmart.

“You and your wife look at each other like, ‘oh no what’s going to happen.’ You try to get a job in time, but the rent man says, ‘no, I’m sorry.’ Next thing you know you’re the homeless person,” said Justice.

His story isn’t unique. An abrupt emergency situation caused Martha Grayson to become homeless unexpectedly.

“Domestic violence really bad, and they were just the people I was renting from. I just wanted to get away from that. I actually had to sneak away,” said Grayson.

She recently arrived at the Salvation Army in Bowling Green, after traveling all the way from Louisiana.

“My back is broken right now. It’s broken. To the point where I had to leave Louisiana. It was hanging on by that much. I need a spinal fusion that bad,” said Grayson.

Martha and John are both experiencing what’s called temporary homelessness. Captain Michael Cox at the Salvation Army say’s it’s common.

“The great deal of people that we see are the people who just don’t know how to do it. They struggle with getting that right foot out in front of them. Then you have those that are just immediately down out of luck in an emergency crisis,” said Cox.

Kentucky’s most recent K-Count found that out of the 121 homeless people living in Warren County, 95 of them are in emergency housing. Unable to house them all, the Salvation Army has had to start turning people away.

“Right now we can only house about 70 people, and we probably will see almost 90 tonight,” said Cox.

Due to their limited capacity, the Salvation Army only allows people to stay for 30 days, once a year. Martha, John and Marley will need to find some where else to go soon.

“Room in the Inn probably captures a lot more percentage wise of the chronically homeless than some of the other programs here in town, because we’re the closest thing Bowling Green has to a low-barrier shelter,” said Sharli Rogers, program coordinator at Room in the Inn.

Room in the Inn is volunteer operated, and therefore only open during the cold months. They also sometimes have to turn people away due to capacity issues.

“When I look at the calendar for the coming year and look at the number that we have projected for it, it’s pretty grim statistics. We’re going to have quite a number of nights this year that we’re going to turn people away,” said Rogers.

Sharli shared her thoughts on why there aren’t more emergency shelters in town.

“Homelessness is lower on our priority list emotionally for us as human beings, I think, than a lot of other issues,” said Rogers.

Yet, it’s an issue that John and Martha believe could affect anyone.

“I have a very high IQ. I was on the deans list in college and here I am homeless,” said Grayson.

“They just need some help. Everybody goes through something. We’re all fighting battles that nobody knows about,” said Justice.

Room in the Inn opened its doors on November 15th, and as winter approaches, they are still short on volunteers and churches willing to take in the homeless.