Peyton Bristow never thought she would be without a home, living in a homeless shelter in Pikeville with four children.

Bristow, a 25 year-old mother, whose children are all under five, has been staying at the WestCare Emergency Shelter in Pikeville for two months.

Bristow, like other homeless individuals in Pike and surrounding counties, was more than likely included in a January K-Count that local officials say is flawed and doesn’t nearly show the truth of a growing problem in this community.

Bristow said her and her children moved to Hazard nearly a year and a half ago to escape an abusive relationship in Florida.

“I came to Kentucky and humbled myself,” she said. “I started going back to school.”

Bristow said she was harassed by the maintenance crew at her housing complex in Walkertown, near Hazard. She said after she started attending Hazard Community and Technical College, her boyfriend would help her by getting the children off the bus.

“I was harassed the whole time I lived in Walkertown,” she said. “I had a boyfriend there but he didn’t live with me.”

According to Bristow, the maintenance crew came into her apartment and saw her boyfriend helping her get her children ready for school and threatened to kick her out because they said he was living in the complex with her.

The complex took her to court and she was kicked out of her apartment, said Bristow.

Bristow was adopted as a child and said she moved to Kentucky to receive help from her sister. She said she recently discovered her biological mother and father and will be moving to Texas to live with them soon.

Upon being removed from her Walkertown apartment, Bristow drove her four children ages 1, 2, 3 and 4 to stay at the WestCare Emergency Shelter, she said.

Bristow said staying at the shelter has been good for her family.

“We have our own room and bathroom,” she said. “The kids got a lot of nice stuff for Christmas.”

Upon moving to Texas, Bristow hopes to go back to school to become an ultrasound technician or a chef, she said.

“Some days it’s hard because we have to be downstairs until four and I can’t give them naps,” she said. “It hasn’t been bad. I don’t get involved with everyone’s drama because I’m with my kids or by myself, so it has been peacful for me, probably more than it has been for everyone else.”

Bristow said everyone at the shelter gets along well mostly.

“We have people that cook,” she said. “Usually everyone eats well, every night. If one person cooks, then usually they will cook for everyone.”

“I told them (her children) when we came here that it was like Santa’s Workshop,” she said. “They kind of think it is because they are always getting new stuff.”

During the interview, Bristow pointed at her three year old son. “He asks me a lot why we moved here but I don’t really tell him exactly because I can’t really explain it to him in a way that he would understand. We’ve been here for two months so they’re already used to it. Now when we leave they have to restart all over again.”

Bristow said the children get attached to some of the people in the shelter.

“When they leave I just tell them that they went to another place,” she said. “They don’t really get sad about it. I think they understand.”

Bristow said the children are the “happiness of the place.”

A flawed count?

January’s K-Count revealed a lower number of homeless people in Kentucky, but local shelter workers said that is not the case.

The Kentucky Housing Corporation conducts a K-Count every year and last year in Floyd, Martin, Magoffin, Johnson and Pike counties the number of homeless people was 134. 

Anna Coleman with the Pikeville WestCare Emergency Shelter said she believes there are homeless people not detected by the K-Count.

“You cannot count a whole county in a day,” said Coleman. “Imagine how many hollows are in Pike County. You can’t cover that in one day, plus ask the four pages of questions that they want you to ask. It takes a while for them to trust you, even when they come to the shelter, because society has made them promises and not kept them.”

Coleman said the shelter served more than 500 people without homes in 2015. She said on the day of the K-Count, the shelter was housing 22 people.

Brenda Mullins, a direct care worker at the West Care Emergency Shelter in Pikeville, has been a full-time employee at the shelter for three years.

Mullins attributes a lack of jobs in the area to the increasing number of people without homes. She said as of Feb. 23 there were 26 people housed in the shelter, which has a capacity of 30.

“There’s no jobs,” she told the News-Express. “The coal miners who were making pretty good wages are now working for minimum wage. They have house payments and car payments. They’re used to a big income which, they no longer have.” 

Mullins said a lot of times people who come to the shelter say their families can no longer afford them or no longer have room for them.

Helping the homeless

Mullins said the WestCare shelter and Penny Road Community Church leave bags of everyday items under bridges in Pikeville. She said they currently leave these bags under three bridges in Pikeville. The bags contain toothpaste, food, coats, gloves and blankets, among other things.

“It’s very hard for people to believe that someone is living under a bridge,” she said. “I’ll be honest with you, we do intakes and we have to ask ‘Where did you stay last night?’ a man told me ‘I stayed under the Greasy Creek bridge.’ I was in disbelief.”

Mullins said the shelter is always looking for donations and said they try to keep furniture and household items on hand to help people who are moving from the shelter to a home.

“When these people come in here all they have is clothes,” she said. “They do not have a bed to lay down on, they don’t have a couch or any cookware. We try to help them as much as we can.”

Mullins said a lot of people still do not know that the West Care Emergency Shelter exists.

Mullins said the shelter is helping a lot of people.

“Our biggest resource is Facebook,” she said. “A lot of times, most of these people get jobs in the food industry and they have to have non-skid shoes. We put it on Facebook that we need these shoes and we usually get a good response from it.”

“This is a rewarding job,” said Mullins. “You have to face the facts that people are going to fail. You can’t save everyone, but for the most part, you can save them. You throw your energy into them, helping them get on their feet, find a job, find transportation and reach out to anyone who can help them, because most people who come in here their first words are ‘I never thought I would be here, and no one ever thinks they will.’ Everyone thinks ‘this will not happen to me.’”

“It happened to me,” she said. “ My home burned down, I lost everything I owned and I had to come here for a couple of days. I’m not ashamed of the fact. I came in crying too.”

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