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VOL. 44 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 24, 2020

Knoxville tries to get a grip on growing homlessness

By Kylie Hubbard

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Aaliyah Akané, leaving Preservation Pub in Market Square after unsuccessfully trying to get a singing gig. She recently moved to Knoxville from North Hollywood.

-- Photos By Adam Taylor Gash | The Ledger

As the winter wind whips through North Broadway, thousands of Knoxville’s homeless long for shelter, food and a second chance.

Homelessness isn’t contained just to this area of downtown, though. Knoxville Homeless Management Information System reports 9,138 individuals have sought services that were provided with help from its partners in 2018, but that number might not capture the entire population living on Knoxville’s streets.

“Homelessness is truly underreported,” KnoxHMIS program manager Lisa Higginbotham says. “They don’t necessarily identify themselves as being homeless because there’s a lot of stigma associated with that.”

KnoxHMIS provides aggregated information based on the demographics gathered by its 22 partners, which range from Knox County Community Action Committee and Knox Area Rescue Ministries to Helen Ross McNabb Center and YWCA.

The more than 9,000 individuals reporting homelessness represent subpopulations of families, youth, veterans and seniors.

About 25% of the active clients in 2018 reported being a part of a homeless family, with more than 700 families being served.

Families were host to 22% of homeless youth, but the majority of 12-24-year-olds did not report a parent or guardian.

“(An) issue that we’re seeing, you know, when you think about just communitywide with what the data are showing us is that we’re seeing more and more unaccompanied youth,” Higginbotham says, adding that more referrals from school systems like Knox County Schools have added to more resources being provided for youth.

Most veterans who utilized KnoxHMIS resources were also classified as a senior, which KnoxHMIS considers individuals age 62 and older. 995 of homeless in 2018 were of senior age and 774 self-identified as a veteran. More than 20% of seniors reported a disability, most commonly mental and physical.

Health services for aging homeless are one of the biggest and toughest issues to tackle, Higginbotham says.

“We can give a short-term solution but a long-term solution is difficult because the housing services need to also have some sort of medical support,” Higginbotham explains.

Ricterio was limping through Market Square, hoping people would give him money for food. He says he recently had a stroke and cannot find suitable work.

Although 2019 demographics will not be finalized until mid-2020, a community dashboard on the KnoxHMIS website shows data for quarter 3 of 2019 in which 4,748 clients were served during the months of July, August and September.

Almost 300 families, 371 youth, 453 veterans and 594 seniors were served in that period. The dashboard reports affordable housing as the most reported reason for homelessness, with mental/health reasons and eviction as other common reasons.

“(Partners) can look at their data and see the type of person that’s getting served and the type of person that’s being left out of services so they can meet those needs better,” Higginbotham notes, adding that program coordinators hope the service can help better homelessness care.

“Homelessness is simply not an acceptable circumstance for anyone in our community,” Knoxville Police Department Communications Manager Scott Erland says, adding that aggressive panhandling creates the most hazard in Knoxville.

“We are tasked with overseeing the safety and welfare of everyone residing in our city, and homelessness is a condition that is detrimental to that task.”

KARM, CAC Knoxville provide opportunities

Both Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries and the Knoxville-Knoxville County Community Action Committee Knoxville utilize KnoxHMIS to better their outreach to Knoxville’s homeless community. KARM Director of Communications & Public Relations Karen Bowdle says the programs at the KARM facility are designed to meet homeless individuals where they are.

“When people come into the door in all their brokenness,” Bowdle adds, “we accept them just as they are, but we don’t want them to stay that way.”

Located just a few feet away from the I-40 bridge over North Broadway, Bowdle explains each of The KARM services is designed to provide a safe place for Knoxville’s homeless population through both indoor and outdoor pavilion spaces.

“We wanted to provide a place outside where they would be safe,” Bowdle says, comparing it to the area under the bridge, which is usually where hundreds of homeless individuals spend their day.

KARM provides various programs for homeless adults. Patrons start in the Crossroads Welcome Center where staff and volunteers connect them with resources after determining needs. Guests then have the opportunity to participate in KARM’s four-week LaunchPoint program where they learn financial literacy, connect with other students and set goals in a religious setting.

Eddie says he is an electrician who is homeless because he lost his job. He idles on a bench in Krutch Park downtown, not really knowing what to do with himself. He doesn’t like going to the homeless shelter, he says, and wishes there were more housing opportunities for the homeless.

“If someone is ever going to break the cycle of homelessness,” Bowdle points out, “(they need) strong, supportive relationships and a livable wage.”

Following LaunchPoint, KARM offers a select population of homeless individuals a four-to-six-month program called Berea where students work, learn and serve in KARM. Berea currently hosts 42 students, helping each break the cycle of homelessness.

“One of the goals for them is budget and financial literacy because the reason (for homelessness) is not always drugs and alcohol,” Bowdle says. She adds she hopes she is using her God-given gifts to help each homeless person who walks through KARM’s doors, especially since she almost faced a similar situation as a child when her father returned from war.

“I truly believe that the majority of us are only one or two decisions away from being homeless ...,” Bowdle says. “... A lot of Americans are only one paycheck away from being homeless.”

Young, old and homeless

Caring for Knoxville’s homeless doesn’t reside just in the hands of organizations, though, with volunteers needed to help continue services for the population.

“Community action changes people’s lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities and makes America a better place to be,” explains Misty Goodwin, CAC Knoxville East and West neighborhood and homeward bound manager.

CAC Knoxville assists each subpopulation of Knoxville homelessness, including youth. Youth Wins assists unaccompanied youth ages 18-21 with case management and community resources. Referrals for assistance are received from Knox County Schools, local agencies, community members and self-referrals.

“Our mission is to assist youth who are homeless to regain housing, increase school attendance, graduate and pursue further education or skills training,” Goodwin says.

Other programs for homeless individuals include United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-funded street outreach and case management program Resources Extended Assist the Chronically Homeless (REACH); HUD-funded family rehousing program Families in Need; long-term case management program Resilient Families; and HUD-funded rehousing program Elizabeth’s Home.

CAC Knoxville’s Homeward Bound program is designated for all referrals regarding unaccompanied youth 18-21, families with children who are homeless, seniors who are unable to stay in shelter, and individuals living in camps, on the street or in places not considered inhabitable for humans. Homeward Bound has been primarily funded since 1989 by HUD, with additional funding from local entities such as Knoxville city government, United Way and Compassion Coalition.

“Homeward Bound’s goal is to move individuals and families to stable, affordable, permanent housing,” Goodwin adds. The program provides crisis assistance, long-term supportive case management and financial support.

“The synergy that comes from having a wide range of programs operated as part of a comprehensive and coordinated system has been a major factor in achieving individual program success and good outcomes for participants,” Goodwin explains, adding that KnoxHMIS reported 100% of those housed by CAC Knoxville remained in housing at the end of the program year.

As the cold weather settles into East Tennessee, Goodwin says it’s important to remember to be kind to homeless individuals, as their street life doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Homelessness is not only what you see in front of you on the streets of Knoxville but so much more,” she offers. “There are families, youth, seniors and others who are living in shelters, in their cars or couch to couch that have experienced in many cases an uncontrollable circumstance and just need a hand up to regain stability.”

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