Community activist says Louisville leaders need to address homelessness, mental health

Community activist says Louisville leaders need to address homelessness, mental health

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - As Jeff Gill walked around Jefferson Square Park on Monday, his mind was still focused on Saturday night.

Gill founded Hip Hop Cares in 2016, a local outreach that helps people who are homeless and struggling with mental health issues.

For four years, he’s worked with the most vulnerable in Louisville. That work brought him to Jefferson Square Park weeks ago, and was the reason he was in the park Saturday. He left just one hour before Steven Lopez, 23, allegedly opened fire on a group of protesters, killing Tyler Gerth, 27.

“As quick as you just snapped your fingers, that’s how fast things can change,” Gill said. “I don’t think that anybody would’ve necessarily had a head’s up that that situation was gonna happen, but I do think that it could’ve been prevented.”

Gill told WAVE 3 News he had previously helped protesters remove Lopez from the park twice, before Lopez came back for a third time and allegedly opened fire.

Through his outreach, Gill said he knows Lopez personally and said like dozens of others in Louisville, Lopez needed help he has never gotten.

“He fell through the cracks so many times on every level, from outreach to Metro Corrections to the resources that we have available in this city,” Gill said. “To all of the resources, I feel like we all dropped the ball, because he needs help. He really does.”

Lopez has been charged with one count of murder and one count of wanton endangerment first degree. On June 17, Lopez was arrested and charged with inciting a riot, disorderly conduct, harassment and buying/possessing drug paraphernalia. Just two days later, records show Lopez was arrested yet again on June 19. Those charges included unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct.

Gill said he believes the murder charge justifies Lopez’ actions, but also said the city needs to do more for vulnerable people who often times can’t help themselves.

“Anybody that does something in that magnitude, of that magnitude, they definitely need to face the consequences,” Gill said. “But it’s a matter of still getting him the help that he needs. Even if he spends the rest of his life behind bars, he still deserves to get help for mental illness.”

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