Beyond a Roof: 5 questions with Kim Webb of Emergency Shelter of NKY

Since 2008, Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky (ESNKY) has provided lifesaving and life changing low-barrier shelter and wrap around services for adults in Northern Kentucky. In February 2022, ESNKY opened the doors to their brand-new state-of-the-art facility with 68 beds, a daytime Navigation & Engagement Center for showers, laundry, cell phone charging stations, an onsite medical clinic, and community partner rooms. 

Located on 13th Street in Covington’s Westside neighborhood, ESNKY has become  one of the region’s most well-known homelessness service providers.

Now operating a year-round emergency shelter and housing work program for men, winter cold shelter for both men and women, and a housing work program for women during our winter months, ESNKY sees homelessness as an emergency and that shelter is a basic need for all. The organization believes that only when this basic necessity is provided, does a person have the ability to recover from homelessness.

ESNKY Executive Director, Kim M. WebbSoapbox writer, Kareem Simpson caught up with Kim M. Webb, Executive Director at ESNKY.
1) What are some of the main challenges faced by the individuals experiencing homelessness you serve?
There are several. However, the biggest challenge is the lack of income aligned housing in our community. That means that housing can be found for any source of income and at any level. While we see folks that are chronic, we see more folks that are in search of the magical triangle of housing, transportation, and employment in one city so that they can become invested in the community. Access to mental health support is another challenge. Our guests struggle finding and accessing this to help to address some of their trauma so that they can move forward and be successful. 

2) Can you share a success story or example of someone who has benefited from your shelter's services?
We have several success stories. There were two 18-year-olds that entered the shelter about the same time. While they both came from different backgrounds, they
bonded and decided to enter Job Corps in Louisville together and pursue vocational training. It was inspiring to see their friendship become a support system for each other.

We currently have a guest, Lorne, who went through significant changes in his life including divorce and losing his house, and ended up at ESNKY after getting treatment for depression. He was not familiar with our programs and services and his option was (either) going to the street or coming to ESNKY. He is currently in our work program, employed, saving money, and looking for housing.
3) How does your shelter collaborate with other organizations or community partners to support the homeless population?
It would be hard to name them all and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. We have a Navigation & Engagement Center where we can plan and develop based on best practices across the nation. We offer space at ESNKY for our partners to come in and meet with our guests so they can assist in any way that the can with our guests’ needs in real time. So, to answer your question, we have over forty community partners that we work with ranging from legal to mental health services to health insurance case management, employment, and services for our veterans. We have a holistic approach that is person centered, allowing our guests to have a voice and choice in how, where and when they access services. 
4) What are some common misconceptions people have about homelessness, and how does your shelter work to dispel these misconceptions?
A very big misconception of those who are experiencing homelessness is that they are lazy. Another one is the belief that men should just “pick up their boot straps and get on with it”. It is just not that easy when you are in crisis. Another popular one is that they are all “drug addicts”, however substance abuse impacts everybody, whether you are housed or not. Some people ask the questions, “Does addiction cause homelessness or does homelessness cause addiction?” and the answer I give is “Yes."  There is also fear that they are violent. Historically more violence is committed against someone who is homeless than a homeless person who commits crime against others.
5) Is there anything else you would like readers to know about your shelter or the issue of homelessness?
I feel that many think that ESNKY is just a place for people to languish. And it is not. Programs we offer are holistic and best practice. Not everyone is chronically homeless. In fact, last year, 67 percent of our guests spent fourteen nights or less in shelter; 20 percent spent only one night. It may be because they repaired a relationship with a roommate or found a co-worker to rent from, but they have self-resolved and found a way to exit our system.

Learn more about Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky here
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Read more articles by Kareem A. Simpson.

Raised in the inner city of Covington, Kentucky, Kareem Simpson is an author, innovator, community enthusiast, military veteran, serial entrepreneur, foodie and lover of all things creative.