New Carter Compassion Center prepares site to help homeless

Published 4:45 pm Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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Work has begun at the home of the new Carter Compassion Center where the community’s homeless will soon be able to seek assistance.

The organization, which received its 501c3 designation in 2021, will be located at the former Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce building on U.S. Highway 19E. The building, which is owned by the city, has been empty since the chamber moved downtown in 2020.

The Carter Compassion Center is led by a board and President Brandon Young, who serves as the pastor at Harmony Free Will Baptist Church. He said he was approached in 2020 when the county commission began discussing the need to create a task force to help homeless residents.

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“I don’t know why they chose me,” Young said as he recently cleaned with other volunteers at the new site. “I, I would assume because my heart is in this. I don’t want, I don’t want recognition. It’s not about me. “

The church is about the people, he added.

“So wherever I go, I just want to, I wanna make life better for somebody,” he said.

The center will serve as a liaison between those in need of rebuilding their lives through a network of resources teaching them how to reintegrate into life’s main stream, according to the organization’s mission. The goal is to provide individuals and families with a plan of action, along with a mentor.

“People are just, I mean, they’re just really struggling,” Young said.

As organizers began planning the center, they learned that the community has been dealing with “multigenerational poverty,” poverty that affects all age groups. Although there are multiple resources in Carter County, Young said, “the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.”

Homeless residents have been required to travel around the county to visit various organizations, churches, and government agencies for help.

“They’re trying to find these places, you know, and, and that’s, that’s tough,” Young said.

For example, Young said there is a need to help homeless veterans.

“They think that maybe they have to go to Johnson City, to the VA [Veterans Affairs] to get help. We’ve got a veteran’s officer right here in Elizabethton. Matter of fact, it’s just, you know, a couple hundred yards over there, in the county building.” Young said as he pointed across the four-lane highway to the county courthouse. “So we’ve got resources, scattered resources, I guess you could say scattered resources. People that don’t understand where to go, how to navigate it. Yeah. You can’t navigate it. It’s tough.”

Young added that some local residents are unable to read, or don’t have telephones or computers to fill out forms.

“We hope to have some of those resources here. They can come in and we can fill out that paperwork for them,” Young said.

There are plans to host free educational events in the evening hours, such as classes on money.

“We would be the liaison between you and the resources, start the paperwork,” Young said. “But then what we realized is you’re going to need a mentor to mentor you through this, to break that cycle of poverty. And unless we’re just gonna keep giving out fish, we gotta teach you to fish.”

The pastor said he’s not aware of any similar organizations in the region.

A “one-stop shop” resource for the county’s homeless population is needed, Young said.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 16.1% of the county’s population lives in poverty. Each January, the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness conducts a 24-hour head count of homeless residents. In 2022, there were 17 homeless people in Carter County and a total of 392 in the Tri-Cities region, according to data from ARCH.

“And these are people that get up every day and go to work and have two and three jobs,” said Mike Simerly, who serves on both the Carter Compassion Center board and City Council. “But again, they’re just not making enough money to pay the bills.”

Before it starts operating, however, work needs to be completed on the building.

Young and Simerly said the building’s roof must be extended and the rear wall needs to be replaced. The roof was installed incorrectly on the backside of the building, which resulted in the entire wall rotting. There are also several leaks that need to be fixed and sheet rock that needs to be repaired and patched, they said.

“It’s got good bones,” Simerly said. “It just needs some help.”

Volunteers recently cleaned the windows, vacuumed the floors and pulled weeds outside. They also installed temporary signs on the building and along 19E.

The board is working on plans to raise funds and work on the building. Young said the board also includes Treasurer Robert Acuff, who was one of the original planners, as well as Secretary Karen Jones, Thomas Proffitt, Ricky Jones and Kathy Thomason.

The center will host several events in coming months as it prepares to open. A community open house is set for May 21 from 10 a.m. to noon. On June 6 at 11 a.m., the center will host a lunch for local non-profit organizations. Then, on June 27 at 11 a.m., local pastors are invited to a lunch at the center.

In the meantime, donations can be made online at Funds will be used to prepare the building for operations and hire an individual to work at the center, according to Simerly.

“So a lot of folks are coming together to make this work. And that’s what we want it to be the community coming together. This is the building for the community to come together, to help those that are really struggling,” Young said.