When Jeff Mattson adds to the discussion at meetings of the Homeless Council of the Ohio Valley, he is speaking from personal experience. Jeff used to be a resident at St. Benedict’s Homeless Shelter, where he is now assistant director, after completing the treatment program at Owensboro Regional Recovery. “I used to sleep in these beds. I used to walk these streets during the day, trying to find whatever work I could,” he tells Owensboro Living from a corner office at St. Benedict’s.
After spending six months at Owensboro Regional Recovery, Mattson served as a peer mentor for another nine months, then got a job as a “paid volunteer” with AmeriCorps, where he served the Pitino Shelter, Oasis, and St. Benedict’s.
“I fell in love with this work,” he said with an exuberant smile. “Before I was sober, I only cared about myself. But now I know the joy of thinking of other people. God put this job (at St. Benedict’s) in my lap. Now I can help them,” Mattson says, pointing to a room full of bunk beds.
Coming full-circle, Mattson started his role as assistant director at St. Benedict’s on December 15, 2016. He is currently taking classes to get his associate’s degree, and enjoys serving as secretary for the Homeless Council of the Ohio Valley (HCOV).
The HCOV is a team of shelter leaders, volunteers, and other community organizations focused on aiding the local homeless population. One of those leaders is the executive director of Saint Benedict’s, Harry Pedigo. “We come together as one to share resources, address issues related to homelessness in the community, and to strengthen community partnerships, to enable us to destigmatize homelessness and maximize our services to the population we serve,” Pedigo says of the Council’s role in the local community.
The council was formed in 1994 to serve the seven counties in the Green River Area Development District (GRADD). Mattson says collaboration is the key to HCOV’s success. “The people on the council have excellent ideas, and we try to incorporate them. When we all work together, we can get some people housed.”
Goals and Objectives
According to their Facebook group, in the next three years, the HCOV has set three main priorities: to work to increase the amount of transitional housing units and emergency beds for women and women with children; to create housing for homeless youth and youth that are aging out of the foster care system; and to create a volunteer group with the mission of counseling those who are seeking transitional housing units.
Pedigo says the council’s main objective this year is to be more effective through strategic planning. For example, HCOV is working to consolidate demographic information among the shelters so they can share that information to better use housing resources.
Recently the council has worked to designate “white flag shelters” throughout the community on nights when it’s especially cold and secured funding to help facilitate additional transitional housing. Currently, HCOV is working to establish a community medical clinic facility to serve local shelter residents.
The Homeless Council of the Ohio Valley also hosts a Community Resource Fair every year to reach both sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals. Prior to the fair, the HCOV collects items from the community, including travel-size first-aid kits, hats, gloves, travel-size hand sanitizers, chapstick, and bottled water. The purpose of the fair is to raise awareness and to help struggling citizens know that services are available to help them find housing, work, and shelter.
This year’s Community Resource Fair was held on Wednesday, January 25 from 8 a.m. to noon at Settle Memorial Methodist Church in Owensboro. In addition to connecting homeless individuals and families with agencies and organizations to help them improve their quality of living, the fair also provides free haircuts, showers, food, clothing, employment and education opportunities, counseling services, and medical screenings, among other valuable resources. Approximately 300 people are typically served by this fair.
Every year, a “K-Count” is conducted to monitor the homeless population in Kentucky. Those results help demonstrate the need for resources in each community and determine the amount of federal funding for homeless programs. The Kentucky Housing Cooperation partners with the HCOV to help account for the number of homeless individuals in Daviess County. According to the Kentucky Homeless Management Information System on the Kentucky Housing Corporation’s website, Daviess County’s 2016 K-Count “total homeless” population was 230.
But that number is admittedly a moving target. Pedigo says St. Benedict’s alone served 300 individuals in 2016, although some of those were people just passing through, and were not Owensboro/Daviess County residents.
The other variable in the K-Count is that the state and federal definition of “homeless” changes from year to year.
The HCOV took special care this year to obtain as accurate a count as possible. The 2017 K-Count was conducted on Wednesday, January 25, in conjunction with the Homeless Council fair. That evening, the Owensboro Police Department continued the count with patrols throughout the city, looking for known locations where people routinely sleep outside. Still, weather and other circumstances may have influenced those numbers.
How can I Help?
Pedigo said that if interested, “members of the community can help (HCOV) by volunteering their time to help with future resource fairs, contributing to local shelters, attending the Homeless Council meetings, or by spreading awareness.”
If you are interested in contributing, please drop off items at St. Benedict’s Homeless Shelter, Boulware Mission, or the Daniel Pitino Shelter. Or if you are interested in taking an active role as part of the HCOV team, please see the Facebook group for additional details about monthly meetings.
The beauty of HCOV is that anyone can be a part of it. “It’s not just for shelter directors,” Pedigo said. “It’s for anyone in the community interested in helping the homeless population.”
“What I bring is an example of what a person can become when this whole community comes together to help someone. That’s what this council is all about,” Mattson explains. “Owensboro is full of love. This community is awesome.”
*This article first appeared in the February ’17 issue of Owensboro Living Magazine.