Homeless families must pay for nights at shelter

Monday, September 29, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Louisville, Ky., Salvation Army chapter is charging homeless families $5 a night if they stay at its downtown shelter for more than a week, an apparently unprecedented change that has angered some homeless advocates.

The organization started the fee this month as an incentive to pull people out of homelessness, said Maj. John Tolan, the agency's director of social services. Some people have been staying for months at the shelter, he said.

The National Coalition for the Homeless and the national Salvation Army in Arlington, Va., knew of no other shelters nationwide that charge families, although some charge individuals.

"It's something we don't agree to, wouldn't support," said Donald Whitehead, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based coalition.

Some homeless advocates are urging the Salvation Army to reverse its policy.

"This is totally unacceptable. It's pathetic," said Marlene Gordon, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, which coordinates services among 25 shelters in Louisville and southern Indiana.

Families are permitted to stay without charge for seven nights in the 12-family shelter. After that, they must begin paying $5 per family at the door each night and meet with a counselor to discuss becoming self-sufficient.

"We are trying to make them aware that when they move out of the shelter, they need to have a plan," he said.

Tolan said families who can't pay won't be turned away and can earn additional free nights if they show they are working to improve their lives. The shelter also makes exceptions for people who are disabled or mentally ill.

"We're not putting families out on the street," Tolan said.

The Louisville organization implemented a $5 charge for individuals several years ago.

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