Kenneth Winfield, like so many homeless people in Louisville and elsewhere, had battled mental illness and substance abuse for most of his adult life. Still, volunteers at the St. John Center for Homeless Men, where he was known to frequent, considered him a genial and friendly fellow. On Thursday night, as Louisville was plunged into sub-zero temperatures, Mr. Winfield died on the steps of that center, USA Today is reporting.
“Please help me find an apartment. I don’t want to die out there.”
At about 8:30 P.M. Thursday night, Louisville Fire Department personnel responded to a “man down” call. They found Mr. Winfield and took him to a hospital, where he died the next day. Autopsy results are pending.
It’s not clear, as of this post, why Mr. Winfield spent the night on the steps of the homeless shelter instead of inside St. John’s or another one. Louisville shelters were under Operation White Flag Thursday night, according to WHAS, meaning that they couldn’t turn anyone away, no matter what. Further, there was space at Louisville’s other homeless shelters that night.
However, some homeless prefer to stay outside, regardless of the conditions, says Maria Price, executive director of The St. John Center. Kenneth had been living with his girlfriend in a tent near downtown.
He had been trying to overcome his homelessness, says Ms. Price. He applied for help through a federal program that provides a rent voucher, plus social services support and counseling. But there were only 70 such vouchers available, and Mr. Winfield wasn’t considered “high risk” enough to get one.
“It once again points to just this horrible choice we’re forced to make when we don’t have enough supply to meet demand.”
Louisville, like much of the rest of the country, is currently in the midst of a freezing blast of winter weather. It’s so bad that Niagra Falls has frozen solid, and the nation’s power grid is taxed to its breaking point.
Mr. Winfield’s death illustrates the problem of how much of a toll winter takes on the homeless, says Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
“The homeless, as I’ve said, are particularly vulnerable in this weather. And we’ve been working to get as many off the streets as we possibly can.”
Louisville police and fire personnel will conduct nightly sweeps during the harshest winter weather to look for homeless people outside, and encourage them to get into shelters.
[Image courtesy of: USA Today]