EPD: Not many ‘homeless’ on Elizabethton streets

Published 8:24 am Friday, January 22, 2016

Contributed Photo This homeless camp in Sullivan County shows the conditions in which the homeless people of the region reside.

Contributed Photo This homeless camp in Sullivan County shows the conditions in which the homeless people of the region reside.

Cold, snowy weather can present problematic and bitter conditions for the homeless, many of whom seek shelter wherever they can.
A check with the Elizabethton Police Department revealed that there are not that many “homeless” in Elizabethton. But when officers do find someone on the streets on a cold night, such as Monday and Tuesday of this week, they are taken to an area shelter, namely the Salvation Army in Johnson City.
“There’s not that many ‘homeless’ in Elizabethton. There are a few people that can be observed walking the streets at night, but upon checking we have found they do have homes or somewhere to go to. Evidently, they just like being out at night,” said Major Shannon Peters of the Elizabethton Police Department.
“But, if they’re out there and we find them, of course, we are going to find shelter for them,” he said.
The 2015 annual homeless count by the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homeless (ARCH) revealed only 10 homeless people in Carter County. “This is low compared to other counties in the area,” said Doug L. Murray, ARCH Homeless Programs Outreach Director. “Our count last year found a total of 438 homeless persons in the combined Tennessee counties of Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi,” he said.
The annual homeless count will be conducted again this weekend.
Murray said “homeless” is defined as any individual currently living in an emergency or domestic violence shelter; living in a place not meant for permanent human habitation, such as an outbuilding, cave, tent, camper or public place or; living in a hotel/motel that is being paid for by a non-profit (church or Red Cross) because they can’t afford to pay for it themselves.
He said the count is HUD-mandated. “Without this data, no agency, city, county or other entity can receive federal funds to provide assistance and start new programs,” explained Murray.
Murray said usually these people are often stereotyped as “lazy, not wanting or willing to work.”
“In many instances that is a misrepresentation of who these people really are. Sometimes, they are just down on their luck or because of some hardship they find themselves out on the street,” he shared.
A group of Milligan College students, who helped with last year’s count, learned that homeless takes a different form in rural areas like Northeast Tennessee — often far different than urban areas — and that the point-in-time survey didn’t count everyone, such as someone living on a couch, for instance.
“It was surprising how many people are not technically homeless but are in that lower income, overcrowded situation,” said Shayla Wood, one of the students who participated in the count and who shared in an article about her experience.
“A lot of people focus solely on the homeless and just take for granted the fact that so many people who are not technically homeless actually need the same kind of help. In this area, people often take care of their own, and that’s what can create the issue of overcrowding,” added Wood.
Jacob McGlamery, a volunteer counter from Mountain City, agreed that the numbers don’t tell the whole story. “I think they’re kind of misleading,” said McGlamery. “People can be in really bad situations and not technically be homeless. It’s very unlikely we counted everyone. I never realized how big the issue really was.”
Last year’s count revealed in Washington County alone there were nearly 300 homeless individuals. In Northeast Tennessee, there were 115 homeless under the age of 18, 42 in the young adult demographic (18-24), and 455 over 24 years of age.
What surprised several in the volunteer group doing the counting was how many homeless were veterans — 25 percent in Washington County. Of that group, 23 percent were considered chronically homeless. The total number of homeless individuals for those counties in Northeast Tennessee, between the households with children and households without children, ARCH reported 577 to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“After pouring over the mounds of data, I think that there’s definitely an issue in thinking that homelessness looks the same everywhere — because it doesn’t,” said Wood.
The students also were able see beyond stereotypes and form ideas about what change needs to take place.
“These people aren’t individuals who want to be homeless,” said Logan Foshie, another volunteer.
“They’re not unintelligent. There’s just a need for opportunity. They don’t want a hand out. They want a hand up,” he added.
“When you see someone sitting on the side of the road, you don’t know the situations that they’re facing,” said Banks. “Overall, this project made me more appreciative as a person.”
In addition to volunteers to assist with the count, ARCH also seeks donations of money, food, hygiene products, socks and gloves to be distributed to the homeless during the count. Items can be delivered to the Johnson City office at 321 W. Walnut St.; Bristol office at 522 Alabama St.; or Greeneville office at 124 Austin St., Suite 5, by January 21. Checks should be mailed to the Johnson City office at P.O. Box 3797, Johnson City, TN 37602.
To find out more how you can assist with the 2016 Point-In-Time Count, contact Murray at the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness, 423-557-2294, or via email: doug@appalachianhomeless.org.

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