St. John Center Assists Individuals Experiencing Homelessness
Writer / Makenna Hall
For one Louisville man, lacking housing for years not only kept him from stability and safety, but also wore down his confidence to speak for himself.
Until he walked into St. John Center, located on Muhammad Ali Boulevard in downtown Louisville, Vaughn Boone felt lost for directions.
St. John Center is the city’s only full-service day shelter for men, providing several programs and services intended to help people without a home receive and sustain stable housing.
Last September Boone sought out the center and started applying for disability. Without strong reading and writing skills, he was becoming frustrated with the paperwork, until Housing Counselor Nikki Mullins approached him.
“Ms. Nikki Mullins approached me and everything started from there,” he says. “I felt confident about my next move and what she was going to do for me. I was able to come back and to keep coming back, because she made me feel that they were there for me and they weren’t going to let me down.”
While he was living on the streets, Boone knew he needed help and didn’t want to be in his position anymore.
“I was really on the edge of destruction, giving up, until I came to St. John,” he says. “I was able to regain my spirit and I was able to reach my confidence level again. I was able to open up and share.”
As a housing counselor, Mullins not only aided Boone as he filed for disability, but she also walked alongside him as he applied for social security and food stamps, was hired on a part-time basis at Goodwill, secured temporary housing and got a Section 8 voucher.
“Working in this type of community atmosphere, you see a lot of hard things, and so with Mr. Boone I’m just really proud,” Mullins says. “I’m here to help. He was the one who made all the effort. It’s a privilege and an honor to see that.”
Last year 235 day-shelter guests of St. John Center moved home, and 74 guests increased their income.
“If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t know what to do,” Boone says. “They were there for me when I needed them most. I’m thankful for St. John, for being on my side.”
The number of people receiving homeless services in Louisville has been increasing since 2019, after a steady decrease between 2008 and 2018, according to Louisville’s Coalition for the Homeless.
There were 10,640 people in the city seeking homeless services in 2021. Along with the increase in people seeking services, those who reported having one or more disabilities increased by two-thirds.
In an effort to provide housing for the thousands of people in the city without a stable home, St. John Center is developing their first apartment complex with LDG Development. Louisville-based LDG Development is one of the largest affordable-housing companies in the country.
St. John Center Executive Director Ra’Shann Martin says this will be the first single-site supportive housing development of scale in the state.
“We’re really looking forward to bringing a new model of supportive housing here in Louisville, just to show the community and stakeholders what is possible when you invest in housing resources instead of emergency services,” Martin says.
The complex will include 80 one-bedroom units designed specifically for people who have been without housing for a long time. These individuals who have a complex mix of mental and physical health needs can find it challenging to stay in housing, according to Martin.
The facility will be staffed 24 hours per day and will provide access to supportive services.
The location for the apartment was chosen meticulously by the center. Martin says there were certain criteria taken into consideration so that they could house anybody.
“When we decided to do the work, we knew that we wanted to be a landlord to everybody,” Martin says. “We needed to house everybody who needed housing. There are a lot of restrictions on where people can live based on their backgrounds.”
A spot on Preston Highway was chosen for its vicinity to the bus line, food and medical resources.
Ground breaking is expected this summer, and leaders are hoping to have people moving in by July of 2025.
A total of $17.5 million was invested in the facility’s construction from Louisville’s American Rescue Plan fund. LDG Development is also supporting the cost by applying for low-income tax credits, according to Martin.
This project is just one example of the services that St. John Center provides to the Louisville community.
The day shelter and social services center that Boone walked into last September does not only offer the support of housing counselors. It is also a place where people without homes can get fresh coffee, take a hot shower, receive personal mail, take phone calls and access personal products.
“It’s a day-shelter social-service center,” Martin says. “It’s almost like triage. People come to us and we say, ‘What is it that we can help you with?’ Then we get them to those services.”
Before she began working at the center more than a year and a half ago, Martin worked in social services at an agency focused on young-adult development. Her role included helping young adults succeed by connecting them to services and overcome barriers such as stable housing.
When she was contemplating taking the role at St. John Center, a combination of the center’s values caught her eye.
“I started volunteering before making my decision and I very quickly saw that it is a place I wanted to be,” Martin says. “There’s a lot of beautiful things that happen here, but more than outcomes, it’s really the way that we achieve the outcomes that is so impressive and really aligns with my own personal values.”
Those values include partnership, diversity, advocacy and volunteering.
Valuing community partnerships is at the core of St. John Center, meaning they are not interested in duplicating services, but instead want to connect people with those that exist and fill in the gaps.
The center partners with Veterans Affairs, Legal Aid Society, Centerstone, and Uniting Partners for Women and Children, among others.
One way St. John Center helps to fill in the gaps is by helping people obtain identification in the form of state IDs, birth certificates and social security cards. The center also advocates for changes in policy, to ensure that obtaining identification is not another barrier to housing.
For those who are able to obtain permanent housing, the center offers supportive long-term case management and support. St. John Center provides in-home visits, assistance with job searches and disability benefits, along with life-skills classes and community-building opportunities.
In 2022 the center had 93 people in the Permanent Supportive Housing Program, and 98% retained housing for 12 or more months.
The Street Outreach Team is St. John Center’s newest initiative, which was started in 2019 as a part of the community-wide effort to address homelessness, according to Martin.
“The makeup of outreach is to utilize people with lived experiences to go to individuals who are living places not meant for human habitation and to build rapport with them, to build trust,” Martin says. “We really spend a lot of time on relationships because that is what matters.”
After the St. John Center’s team reaches out to people without homes, it connects them with overnight shelters, health care and recovery services, among other resources.
Having the aid of volunteers is the lifeblood of St. John Center and facilitates the ability to fulfill their mission, according to Martin. Anyone at least 18 years old can volunteer at the center.
Martin says they are always in need of volunteers to help collect, sort and distribute mail, direct people, answer phones, check people in and out of the shower rooms, and hand out hygiene items, among other duties.
St. John Center is located at 700 East Muhammad Ali Boulevard in Louisville. For more info and to sign up to volunteer, call 502-568-6758 or visit stjohncenter.org.