LexBeSafe is an action group of LEX-CHIP made up of community partners and stakeholders who focus on identifying barriers to safety in Lexington-Fayette County and finding ways to ensure all community members feel safe and secure.
COMMUNITY SAFETY, INJURY, & VIOLENCE
Looking at this data, one can infer the violent crime rate in Lexington has declined from 2012 to 2015, from 366.7 to 351 which is over 4%. In addition, Part 1 property crime rates have dropped from 4456.6 to 4004.6 over the same time period which is over 10%.
The larger narrative is in 2012, Lexington’s Violent Crime Rate was the 4th lowest among cities in the United States with populations above 250,000 and our violent crime rate was even lower in 2015. All of this is not to say there are no other types of criminal activity–some reported as Part II (two) Crimes and some that are not reported as a crime at all, yet impacts a community. Activities such as drunken behavior, lewd behavior, loud music, gambling, drug use, and DUI greatly impact the quality of life in any community and can create the impression that chaos and lawlessness is on the increase. The Lexington Police Department has a strong stance on these types of quality of life issues and works diligently around the clock to mitigate criminal activity in every neighborhood.
Lexington leaders in public safety (Mayor Gray, Commissioner Bastin, and Chief of Police Mark Barnard) often say if you are not involved in criminal activity or with someone who is so involved; the chances of being a victim of violent crime in Lexington, Kentucky are very small. That is not to say there are not truly innocent victims because there is some every year. For the police department, one victim – whether totally innocent or not – is one too many. The Lexington Police Department focuses much energy on preventing and solving criminal activity in Fayette County – they solve about ¼ of every reported crime in Lexington, from acts of vandalism to more serious crimes. In fact, with those serious personal crimes, they solve over ½ of all reported homicides, robberies, sexual assaults, and aggravated assaults every year.
Much of Lexington’s crimes are related to drug use, much like other cities in the United States. Whether it is the end user who needs to find money to support their habit and consequently, commits various crimes to come up with this money, or it is the supplier who has large sums of money and drugs in their possession and becomes a target of rival suppliers, drugs are a catalyst for many crimes committed in Lexington. In addition to crimes related to drug use, we have seen a prominent rise in Heroin use over the last five years. Heroin is an opiate typically used as a recreational drug for the euphoric effect it has for the user. Kentucky had four heroin overdose deaths 2008 – in 2015, Fayette County alone had 55. The resurgence of heroin in our community has created one tragedy after another for our families and even though significant resources have been directed toward this problem, we continue to see a rise in overdose deaths – especially as the drug of choice has transitioned to other opiates like fentanyl.
Substance Use Disorder (SUD) continues to negatively impact our community. It touches nearly every citizen in the Lexington-Fayette County area. It does not discriminate demographically and impacts all races, religions, genders, and socio-economic classes. Over the past several years, Lexington-Fayette County has seen a rise, not only in drug overdoses, but also an increase in overdose fatalities. Although SUD has negatively impacted the community for decades, the reintroduction of heroin, coupled with dependence on prescription drugs, including fentanyl, has created one of the most critical public health and safety issues facing Kentucky. Over the past decade, the number of overdose fatalities in Kentucky has steadily climbed to more than 1,000 each year. This takes a devastating toll on families, communities, social services, and economic stability and growth. From 2014 to 2015 Fayette County saw a 26% increase in deaths, resulting from overdose of illegal substances. This is in comparison to a 14% increase for all of Kentucky.
Fayette County is ranked third for heroin related overdose deaths and second in fentanyl related deaths. Although SUD continues to be a primary public health concern, there are a number of resources in Lexington-Fayette County dedicated to providing treatment, prevention, education, stigma reduction, and other services to reduce SUD and its devastating consequences. These resources include the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government’s Substance Abuse and Violence Intervention Program, DrugFreeLex (ASAP), Bluegrass.org, LFCHD, and many other treatment, prevention, and education resources. Because of the many resources currently being dedicated to substance abuse services, as part of its strategic planning process, the LexBeSafe action team has determined that LexBeSafe would have a greater impact focusing on other areas of concern.
When a community member has a safe, secure, and permanent place to live, they have a foundation on which to improve other areas of their life. Safe and secure housing benefits not only the individual, but the family. The feeling of living in a safe home strengthens the community in which they reside.
Housing is also a substantial expense, reflecting the largest single monthly expenditure for many individuals and families. Quality housing is not affordable for everyone, and those with lower incomes are more likely to live in unhealthy, overcrowded, or unsafe housing conditions.
Affordable housing may improve health outcomes by freeing up resources for nutritious food and health care expenditures. Quality housing can reduce exposure to mental health stressors, infectious disease, allergens, neurotoxins, and other dangers. Families who can only find affordable housing in very high‐poverty areas may be prone to greater psychological distress and exposure to violent or traumatic events. Stable, affordable housing may improve health outcomes for individuals with chronic illnesses and disabilities and seniors by providing a stable and efficient platform for the ongoing delivery of health care and other necessary services.
Homelessness is a major social concern nationwide, with youth being at the most risk of becoming homeless. Youth who are homeless are not always runaways or lack parental care. Many homeless youth are with their families.
Approximately 80% of homeless youth (aged 12-21) use drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate to deal with traumatic experiences and abuse.
In Fayette County, and other communities, the definition of homelessness will vary. When Fayette County schools provide data, they are using a broad definition that also includes those who are marginally housed (i.e those who are staying with a friend or other relative versus in a shelter or car). The number of homeless students in Fayette County has doubled in in the past three years. A report completed by the Lexington Fair Housing Council showed that schools that have a majority of students from lower income families have much higher rates of homeless students in comparison with lower impacted schools. Students who are homeless also are more likely to have lower test scores than students with secure housing.
Communities nationwide are experiencing an increase in youth (18-24) homelessness. That presents a unique challenge as systems for addressing homelessness were not built to serve the needs of that population. Many 18-24-year-olds will not go to shelters for that reason or because shelters often have a lot of rules, such as limitations on phones, that youth don’t like. Alternatives that are being chosen include traveling in groups of 3-4 for safety and then utilizing abandoned homes or structures as shelter.
What is causing youth homelessness? A lot of it is driven by problems in the foster care system. Youth turn 18 and they find themselves thrust into independence with no support, a history of trauma, interactions with the justice system, and little training or education. These barriers make it difficult for them to thrive on their own. Resources are limited because homeless programs are often geared toward the chronically homeless (long term) and those with substance use or mental illness issues.
Among children, the causes of homelessness include the parent’s economic situation, substance use/abuse, mental health, functioning levels, etc. The impacts of homelessness on children are well known including poor school performance and trauma associated with lack of stability and exposure to unhealthy environments.
As a community, Lexington is improving efforts of late to serve homeless families, including the addition of an Emergency Family Housing program in 2016 and the locally funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund which seeks to expand access to affordable housing for struggling families.