Elizabethton has a homeless problem

Published 1:55 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

There were photos on Facebook this week of clothing, bags, and other goods dumped on the sidewalk on East Elk Avenue at the west end of the Elk Avenue Bridge. From reports, it was the belongings of homeless people who were transported to Elizabethton and dropped off in that area. They were being left to fend for themselves.

There are more and more homeless people in Elizabethton. Some come from Johnson City via way of the Tweetsie Trail, others loathe at city parks and on the linear trail. Some sleep in their automobiles in parking lots at Walmart or other big box stores.

A Tennessee law which went into effect July 1, 2022, threatens felony penalties against people who camp on public property, including in parks. The bill makes it a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a $50 fine and community service for camping along highways and under bridges. It also expanded the Equal Access to make it a Class E felony for camping on all public property, including parks.

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There are few places the homeless can go to in Elizabethton for help. Free meals are provided by the Loaves and Fishes Food Ministry at Riverside Community Church on Highway 19-E just outside the downtown shopping district.

There is no place in the city for homeless people to stay at night. With colder weather coming, many will be picked up by law enforcement officers on cold nights and taken to shelters for the homeless in Johnson City, such as the Salvation Army, Good Samaritan Ministries, etc. 

Some restaurants will provide the homeless with a meal.

While the government really isn’t the answer to the greatest challenges that we have, the homeless and the poor are certainly a tremendous challenge for any community. Government does have a responsibility to partner with non-profits, with churches, and advocacy groups for the homeless to find a way forward. And, that’s what we would like to see happen in Elizabethton and Carter County.

We applaud the efforts of the Riverside Community Church for their efforts to feed people in the community who lack the resources to buy groceries and the homeless. There are several churches who have joined the effort.

There is no quick fix. Some not only need a place to stay, and food to eat, but some need treatment for substance use disorders.

It is a community problem, and the community must step up. A long-term strategy is welcome, but it cannot become an excuse to ignore short-term remediation.

It’s time local government, the church community, and the public as a whole come together to address the problem.

Perhaps it’s time to take a serious look at Matthew 25: 35-40: I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me….Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.”