The first effort to found a local homeless shelter came under the leadership of former co-commander Paul Gilliam, Nelson said.
“Paul and the board recognized there was a need for some program or even facility to handle our homeless population but after a lot of consideration, they decided that it would be more financially feasible and better stewardship of resources to create a voucher program,” he said.
Under that program, which still is in existence, Salvation Army clients determined to be homeless are given vouchers to stay at least one night at a local motel.
If the clients are not able to find a place to live at least temporarily and need other services as well, the local army makes arrangements with the DanTran bus service to send them to the Hope Center for homeless people in Lexington, which serves the central Kentucky area, Nelson said.
The next time the army considered the possibility of starting a homeless shelter came during the tenure of co-commander Zack Bell, who was Nelson’s predecessor.
“Zack had worked out a tentative plan with Rachel White (executive director of the Housing Authority of Danville) where two public housing apartment units would be set aside for up to four homeless families,” he said.
However, the plan was scrapped after Bell and the army board became concerned about “risk-management issues,” said Nelson, adding that “expense was not a problem.”
“The main concern was being able to manage and monitor security of the units,” he said. “The units would have been part of a large apartment complex housing a lot of people.”
The launch of this third effort came after several meetings with and communications among representatives of the army, Red Cross, Blue Grass Community Action Partnership, Family Services Association of Boyle County, and the Hand Up Group, a new non-profit organization, Nelson said.
“The Hand Up Group initiated the discussions,” he said. “They asked us and other existing agencies what the main needs were in the community and what they could do to provide them. We told them two of the main needs were food and shelter.”
The Hand Up Group decided it would provide another food pantry for the community with plans to add a soup kitchen, Nelson said. The army decided it would again explore the possibility of establishing a homeless shelter, he said.
“We definitely were spurred on by the Hand Up Group and our meeting with them to explore the possibility of pursuing a shelter,” he said.
The army’s exploration has begun with gathering facts to support the need for a shelter.
“Under our voucher program, we send anywhere from 30 to 40 families a year to the Salvation Army Hope Center, the homeless shelter in Lexington,” Nelson said. “That is a substantial number of people needing at least emergency homeless services.”
The numbers would be even higher if everyone that the army has tried to send to Lexington were to go, Nelson said.
“More than a few of our clients have declined to go,” he said. “They just don’t want to leave the area, and many of them are hesitant to go to a homeless shelter for a variety of reasons, including the stigma.”
Asked about recent U.S. Census figures for the Danville area showing homeless numbers in the single digits and in the low double digits, Nelson said the Census “does the best it can” but is not able to count every homeless person because of the “unique demographics” of small towns and rural areas.