According to Johnson County Extension Agent Brenda Cockerham, she and other employees of the Cooperative Extension office have noticed articles of clothing, sleeping bags and trash outside of their office on FM Stafford Avenue that have led them to believing that there is a rising number of homeless individuals in Johnson County. 

The discovery prompted Cockerham to take action in the form of installing a “Blessing Box” outside the office, among other activities aimed at providing support and relief for the homeless. 

However, Cockerham isn’t the only one trying to help, she said.

Cockerham said other organizations in the area are focusing on providing shelter for the homeless during the winter months, including Paintsville/Johnson County Emergency Management, which has circulated a flyer with information about cold weather shelters for those without homes or those with homes lacking isufficient heat.

“We need to have kindness and compassion to address this situation,” Cockerham said. “I’m just doing a few things, just scratching the surface of what needs to be done, so we’re doing homework about what people are (already) doing.”

According to the flyer, JCEM is asking community members in need of help to call JCEM Director Gary McClure or Johnson County 911 Dispatch and include information such as the number of individuals in need of placement, name, age, current address (if available) and current status (homeless, no heat in home, etc.). The flyer said placement would be on a “day by day” basis, but the City of Paintsville and JCEM will “make all efforts to assure that no one has to stay in the cold this winter.”

These measures are becoming more commonplace in Johnson County, due to what data from the Kentucky Housing Corporation indicates may be a growing problem in the area.

According to KHC’s website, every year, KHC conducts a K-Count, a type of survey designed to capture data indicating each area’s number of homeless individuals, to best monitor the homeless situation in Kentucky. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires such a count every other year, but KHC believes it best serves the people of Kentucky to conduct this count yearly.

Results of the K-Count demonstrate the need for resources for housing and services for homeless persons in each community, according to KHC, and the K-Count also helps determine how much federal funding will be awarded from HUD for homeless programs. In addition, according to KHC, the K-Count helps assess progress under Kentucky’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness and provide important information for updating the plan.

In 2016, the K-Count indicated only one homeless individual in Johnson County, with that number rising to six individuals in 2017 and swelling to 11 individuals in 2018’s K-Count — a 120 percent increase.

Although these numbers are self-reported and only include those meeting the criteria of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness (which means, to be considered literally homeless for purposes of the K-Count, an individual or family must have a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant for human habitation or is living in a publicly- or privately-operated shelter designated to provide temporary living arrangements, which includes congregate shelters, transitional housing, and hotels or motels paid for by charitable organizations or by federal, state, and local government programs) the data would indicate a rapid increase in homeless persons living in Johnson County.

Cockerham said she plans to compile information such as this into a pamphlet to be given to the homeless as a list of resources to help them during the winter. Among these organizations are Encounter Missions and the Mountain Comprehensive Care Center’s Homeplace Clinic.

Encounter Missions is a local church that aims to help the disenfranchised, such as those who suffer from drug addiction, homelessness and other marginalized individuals through outreach programs including emergency backpacks and community dinners for any individuals in need in the county, according to Executive Director Beth Castle.

Another such organization is the MCCC’s Homeplace Clinic, whose mission it is “to improve the overall health of the underserved and homeless population of Eastern Kentucky by providing access to quality primary health care,” according to the MCCC’s website.

The KHC will be conducting the survey for 2019’s K-Count on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

For more information on how you can help or how to get help, contact Brenda Cockerham at the Johnson County Cooperative Extension Office by phone at, (606) 789-8108.

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