Knoxville in 2008: Homeless Issues

Not in My Back Yard

Year Two of the Mayors' Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness ended June 30 after a year of fits and starts. On the plus side: The group has raised all the private money (an estimated $400,000) needed to implement the '08-'09 progress on its goals to "provide housing first" and "stop discharging to the streets from foster care, jails, and mental health hospitals," and most of it has been put to use. Its goal of creating 80 units of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless each year until 2014 is in the "one step forward, one step back" category, though, with potential housing units at the Parkway Hotel on Chapman Highway falling through when owner Bob Monday opted out late in the game (to the silent jubilation of his Chapman business neighbors), and the old Flenniken School in South Knoxville was nixed for initial federal funding as a historic building.

No More in My Back Yard?

And Minvilla, the ramshackle former Fifth Avenue Motel now owned by Volunteer Ministries, has had maximum headaches in the process of being transformed into 57 units with the help of equity generated by historic tax and low-income housing credits and corporate investors (plus about a quarter of the funding that comes from the feds). An increase in construction costs nationwide drove the cost of the proposed project up, up, up, from an initial $3.6 or so million, and it's now at $7 million. When Knox County Commission was faced with appropriating $250,000 for Minvilla in November, Commissioners Mark Harmon and Amy Broyles took the opportunity to add an amendment prohibiting any more supportive housing being built in a two-mile radius of the project, with the goal of keeping more homeless services out of their district. Mayor Mike Ragsdale vetoed the measure, but the whole question will come before the commission again at its January meeting.

Too Bad About Your Back Yards

In November, Helen Ross McNabb Center, an agency that provides mental health and substance-abuse treatment, just up and bought two pieces of property—no nicey-nice neighborhood meetings ahead of time—one in Inskip and one in South Knoxville. They're building supportive housing which will most likely become homes for the chronically homeless, despite vocal after-the-fact protests from the impending neighbors.

How About This Courtyard, Instead?

Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry on Oct. 1 introduced a new way of serving the homeless who flock to Broadway service providers and sometimes clog that street and is sidewalks, along with nearby North Central. It opened a Crossroads Welcome Center—a daytime shelter with computers, TVs, and chairs—to replace the "day room" that was operated for years by the Volunteer Ministry Center, but no longer. Most important to the dignity of the homeless and (pardon the pun) a "relief" to KARM's beleaguered gentrified Fourth and Gill and downtown neighbors is the center's access to rest rooms, which should cut back on people needing to relieve themselves throughout the neighborhood. Can't say all the homeless lines have disappeared from Broadway, but they have abated a bit. More importantly, the new center's approach makes it possible to track individuals and direct them to help from several social services agencies, and it gives health authorities somewhere to take mental patients on their release from the hospital—somewhere that's not the street.