Growing concern: Blount County developing 10-year plan to fight homelessness
By Joel Davis | The Daily Times
A group of community organizations and local governments is coming together to develop a 10-year plan to address the issue of homelessness in Blount County.
The Blount County Ecumenical Action Council has been working with United Way of Blount County to develop a common strategy with local governments and nonprofits. The draft document, “A Community Response to Homelessness in Blount County, Tennessee, 2013-2013,” has been submitted to Blount County and the cities of Alcoa and Maryville for their endorsement.
Sue Wyatt of the BCEAC has been coordinating the effort. “For the last couple of years, we have been exploring how we can work together with government and businesses and nonprofits just to address needs for affordable housing ... and to see if we can’t all come to the table and work together on things that will help our families who are struggling,” she said.
The Blount Partnership has been involved as well, said Jeff Muir, Blount Partnership communications director. “The Chamber was happy to facilitate a meeting with the different groups to come up with a plan addressing homelessness in the county. A vote by the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on whether to endorse the plan comes on Sept. 9.”
The draft strategy includes items such as:
• Urging schools to report homeless children.
• Creating a database so local nonprofit service providers can seek grant and funding opportunities.
• Investigating affordable, transitional and permanent supportive housing options, including both public and private investment.
• Seeking out new funding for existing nonprofit agencies.
• Working with local law enforcement and other crisis response agencies to develop emergency response systems and case management services when families are in crisis and need immediate action.
“We have a final draft,” Wyatt said. “We’re not asking for funding. It’s really a matter of just being sure everybody is in touch with the work that needs to go forward.”
The draft strategy involves a series of small steps to address the problem.
“It was clear to everyone involved that large scale solutions like a shelter were not really workable in Blount County,” Wyatt said. “We’re looking at strategies that involve hopefully increasing the pool of affordable housing, looking at transitional situations to help families move from Family Promise toward being self-sufficient and affording rentals and, hopefully, ultimately affording their own home.
“The idea is not to come in with these large sweeping proposals and solutions, but take a step-by-step incremental approach that really moves people toward independence.”
Once the plan is endorsed, the BCEAC will bring together various stakeholders to develop an action plan to implement the strategy. “Our goal is to have a consensus around the steps we take and more specific ideas about how we can actually implement those strategies,” Wyatt said.
There has been a growing concern about homelessness and housing issues in Blount County.
“We were seeing an increase there,” Wyatt said. “It’s families, and it’s impacting children, and we are at a point where there is a need to think strategically about how to respond to this problem. We are at a stage where we can respond. It’s not such a large problem that it’s overwhelming, but it’s enough of a problem that we’d like to move toward addressing the concerns.”
In January, county’s annual Point-in-Time Count that’s required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found 373 homeless people in Blount County. These included those housed in shelters like Family Promise or Heaven Sent Home or who were staying in a hotel whose bill was being paid by someone else.