Homelessness isn’t a crime and does not belong in House Bill 5

Published 9:54 am Friday, February 23, 2024

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By Grace Ramsey

Kentucky Lantern


The Lexington Street Voice Council hosted a luncheon at the Capitol Annex for Kentucky legislators on Feb. 7 to give the lawmakers the opportunity to see them as the people they are, to hear their stories and understand the reasons they are experiencing homelessness. 

More than 65 legislators shared a meal with men and women who have no place to call home; men and women who would be impacted by House Bill 5 that criminalizes homelessness. 

They heard about the childhoods of the SVC members: where they attended school and church, their favorite pet, their favorite subject in school, who had the most influence on their lives and how they traveled the path to homelessness. It was courageous of the legislators to share this sacred time with men and women who are often the “invisible” in our society. 

Some paint the face of homelessness as one of irresponsibility, addiction and criminality; those who choose to not be responsible for their basic need of shelter. Sadly, many “think tanks” and “institutes” that study homelessness are quick to blame the individuals experiencing homelessness because if we blame, demonize and criminalize the people, then it is their fault. 

This narrative is dangerous for our hearts and souls: it allows society to abdicate the responsibility of caring for those who are broken, disconnected and in need of community support. It allows the belief that none of us are responsible for homelessness: not the government, not the community, not the churches, not any of us who have worked hard to shelter ourselves all our lives. Accepting that narrative, Christians and people of all faiths can dismiss the call to care for the least of these because they have chosen homelessness. It allows us to sleep well at night, pray in our churches and rationalize that the people experiencing homelessness aren’t the ones our faith or our compassion call us to care for. 

One of these “think tanks” had provided a 1,500 participant survey to Kentucky legislators which painted the picture that Kentucky citizens were in favor of criminalizing homelessness. The questions did not address the unintended consequences of HB 5 but framed those experiencing homelessness as addicts and criminals.

The Street Voice Council in collaboration with other groups surveyed over 2,000 Kentucky citizens about the actual impact of HB 5 on unhoused citizens and overwhelmingly the responses were against the provisions of HB 5 that criminalized the unsheltered.

It was noted in the SVC survey that it is unlawful now, without HB 5, for any citizen to trespass, loiter, destroy property or commit crimes. More than 85% of participants in the SVC survey say that the addition of the provisions in HB 5 would not make Kentucky safer but instead would burden public safety officers to cite, arrest and jail lawful citizens who are unsheltered when there aren’t enough shelter beds for them. The results of the SVC survey were made available after the legislators shared lunch with the Street Voice Council. 

So, the question must be asked: if the majority of those on our streets aren’t addicts and criminals, then what is the basic cause of homelessness and who are they? After 24 years of hearing the voices of the unhoused, getting to know their stories and walking with them from the streets to a home, my unwavering belief is poverty is the cause and they are the poor. 

Whether it be the single mom with four kids who was living on the brink of poverty when a car repair and health issues tipped the family into homelessness. Or the elderly gentleman who lost his wife, his support system, suffered health issues in his grief and was unable to function until one day he lost his home. There are addicts and criminals who are unhoused, just as there are addicts and criminals who are housed in all neighborhoods across the state, but the vast majority of those experiencing homelessness are not addicts and criminals, just poor.

We all know that wages are not keeping up with rental costs.

We all know affordable housing is in too short supply.  

The working poor who live on the edge of poverty without a safety net of family security cannot withstand the life experiences of an illness, major auto repair, or any other unexpected financial hit that can result in losing their home.

Please, please please don’t put our fellow Kentucky homeless families, disabled/elderly citizens, struggling men and women in the picture that is painted of irresponsibility, addiction and criminality. These folks are left on the streets with nowhere to go. Shelters are full, services are overwhelmed and they are suffering. Let’s address those issues. 


Ginny Ramsey is the director and co-founder of the Catholic Action Center in Lexington, Kentucky.