Chattanooga Needs An Emergency Homeless Shelter - And Response (3)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

His nickname is Otis. It seemed fitting to the people who saw him every day because to them he reminded them of the famous character in The Andy Griffith show who sleeps in the jail at night. His story is a tough one. He was happily married with a wife, but one problem ended up ruining his marriage and life - alcohol. He became an alcoholic, for which his wife left him and took all the money.

He ended up having to find places to sleep at night where no one would disturb him or ask him to move. Currently, he is living in a small cave in the woods. Here, he has a single sleeping bag that has to be able to endure the cold winter nights.

Often, high school students from the local school find humor in messing up his small abode and riding their dirt bikes around his cave on the trails to try and scare him. For clothes, he gets old hand-me-downs from the minister at a nearby church. His means of transportation is an old bike. Many times kids have thought it amusing to steal it, which leaves him with no way to get places but walking.

When he needs to go farther distances, he stands on the side of the road in hopes that someone nice enough will stop and give him a lift downtown. He has been so hungry at times that he has been found taking food out of the donations box of canned goods at a local church. You would think that the collections like this would be happy to donate to this local man, but so often do organizations want the glory for helping a large group of people, instead of a small difference in one life. I say, you have to start small and go big.

This is just one of the stories of the hundreds of homeless people in the Chattanooga area. Although there are several shelters that house homeless people, they do not have nearly enough space and are not emergency shelters. The true need for an emergency shelter in Chattanooga is eminent. Less than 10% of the people in need of shelter are able to be placed in one. When these men and women live on the streets, it increases their mental health care risks, which in turn increases their potential for a mental health crisis.

Would you let a family member or close friend sleep out on the streets during the bitter December nights? I would hope not. These people, today, on the streets are our bothers and sisters of the world, which means we have a calling to reach out and help them when they are in need.

The solution for this issue, simply, is to create an emergency shelter that can house the homeless when they are in desperate need. As many have said before, the old Farmers Market would be the perfect location to build a shelter. The space is not currently in use and is just taking up space that could be accommodating for a better cause.

Now the question is how do we raise the money? I have a couple of different ideas that could solve this problem. First, is to organize a march for homelessness where there is an entry fee of $5. People who are passionate about this idea would be more than happy to pay for the ticket. Those who are not as dedicated to this issue, they could skip their cup of coffee for one morning and donate what they would have paid. My other idea is to add an extra $1 to the bill in each Chattanooga restaurant. This would raise the awareness about the people who have not got the money to sit down and have a nice meal. Hopefully, this would help the people who do donate feel like they have helped out in creating a safe environment for the homeless.

Once the shelter is built, job offers would be available to help work it. To start off, a professional would have to be present, but eventually the goal would be to have some of the homeless people themselves learn the ways of running it so they would be able to maintain a job. This way some of them will get a start on a career and help those around who are suffering in the same ways.

This shelter is a necessity that Chattanooga is living without. We need to step in and save our brothers and sisters on the streets. We need to pick them up, dust them off, and set them on their feet for a chance to succeed in life, just as we have had the privilege to do.

Caroline Novkov

* * *

I was under the impression that the old Farmers Market was purchased to set up a homeless campus and, even though a lot has been done at the community kitchen for the benefit of the homeless, the Union Gospel Mission on Main Street has closed and moved out to Signal Mountain - not exactly within walking distance. The same is true of the Chattanooga Rescue Mission. They are closing down and moving on. The Salvation Army has closed its shelter concentrating on getting the money for their halfway house.

As the lady says, those places were not emergency shelters and were restricted as to how many people they could help.

I know for a fact that the Rescue Mission had 28 beds fore men and 12 for women. The number was increased if the forecast was for temperatures at or below 40 and rain was forecast.

So I say come on, city, and do something for the homeless as you promised you would. Even Bob Corker said he would do something when He was the mayor. It seems a shame that the richest nation on the earth is quick to send money to help other nations, but when it comes to its own citizens nothing is done.

I think it is time for the city of Chattanooga council to get up off their duffs and do something and now.

Michael Ellins
Ex-homeless person

* * *

Imagine yourself living outside with no shelter, no food, no water, and no clean clothing.

You have no family, no job, no support.

You live day by day just hoping to stay alive.

It is winter, below freezing. You are living outside in the cold air with no source of warmth, and death is just lurking around the corner.

This is the case each night for over 200 people in Chattanooga. These people must sleep outside because of the lack of acceptable shelter space in Chattanooga.

Part 1 of article 25 of The Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” The United States has ratified this Declaration of Human Rights, and furthermore, our very own Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the key contributors to this declaration. Therefore every individual in Chattanooga, and in America for the matter, has the right to shelter, food, healthcare, and clothing. However, each year around 4,094 people experience homelessness in the Chattanooga area. The many homeless people in Chattanooga are supposed to rightfully have shelter, food, healthcare, and clothing. The problem is they don’t.

Clarence was 54-years-old, but he appeared much older. He was living with his mother, while working on and off until she got really sick. Then, in order to care for his mother, Clarence quit working his “odd jobs.” When she passed away, he was unable to keep living in her house, and he became homeless. Not being able make ends meet just by working the “odd jobs,” and with no high school diploma, Clarence was stuck in a ditch. He had no permanent employment, and no stable income.

Encountering the Job Placement Center at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, he was placed in the HELP (GED) program. At the beginning of his studies, Clarence lacked self-confidence. His goal was to take and pass the GED test, but he was afraid of failure. However, with much encouragement and the aspiration to please his instructor, Clarence took the test and passed it with ease. He had pleased himself, his instructor, and his new employer.

With a new life and some self-confidence, Clarence became a cooperative and responsible worker, as well as an essential figure to the company.

A homeless person is someone who literally does not have a home, therefore they usually live on the streets. Some causes that can lead a person to being in this situation are home foreclosures, job loss, lack of education, or simple lack of money.

Banks, especially in this economic downturn, are taking homes away from people because they cannot afford to pay their mortgage. Many times, they have lost their job, and with no net income, it becomes very difficult to pay for a home along with all the other expenses of life. Sometimes, aspects of a person’s childhood are arrows pointing towards homelessness. Maybe the person had to drop out of school to help around the home, while the parents work.

The less education a person has, generally makes it harder and harder for them to get a job. There is also the possibility that they were homeless as a child, and if this is the case, it is extremely difficult to get a job, an income, and a home.

There is also the more simple aspect that a person just might not make enough money to have a home or place of shelter. Despite the many things that can lead a person to homelessness, there is a solution to this major issue in Chattanooga.

Chattanooga has several different shelters for the homeless, but the problem is that most of these shelters do not have a large enough capacity, and they stay full with a waiting list. Also, some of these shelters are designed to a specific group of homeless people, like women for example. Chattanooga has an urgent need for a true emergency shelter with a capacity of no less than 200 beds. The shelter should have space for double that amount of people during extreme weather. There should be no waiting list. People should be able to come on a walk-in, first come, first serve basis. The shelter could provide programs to educate the homeless and maybe lead them to finding a job.

Another option could be for the shelter to provide jobs for the people staying there. The people would not get paid much, if anything at all, for these jobs, but they would be working for their shelter. The homeless could clean, make the beds, keep paperwork in line, and do repairs to the shelter. There is defiantly space in the city for a homeless shelter. Apartment buildings, that will have a hard time selling their expensive downtown apartments in this economy, are continuing to be built. So, if there is space for the new apartment building, surely there is space for a homeless shelter. The issue is the cost of building a large space with the needed capacity. Around Chattanooga, many abandoned buildings can be found. These buildings have no function, they just sit there, dark and empty. So, these buildings could be put to use and be used for a homeless shelter.

A strong homeless shelter in Chattanooga would provide more homeless people with the right of passage. There would be no more dead ends of life for the homeless. By building a this proposed homeless shelter in Chattanooga, opportunities for a better life would be provided, hopefully resulting in more stories like that of Clarence.

Christian Bryant

* * *

* * *

Once upon a time Chattanooga had enough beds to accommodate most of the men needing emergency shelter. There was The Salvation Army, The Chattanooga Rescue Mission, and us, The Union Gospel Mission. Of the three, The Union Gospel Mission typically served the most meals, housed the most men, and provided the most clothes for those in desperate need.

While the Salvation Army provides many needed services for our community, it is true that they are no longer providing emergency shelter on an ongoing basis. In their new location at the old Senter School, however, Chattanooga Rescue Mission is still going strong. I don't know the precise numbers, but they are able to serve more homeless men and women in their new location than they were in their old location on Eighth Street.

The problem is that The Union Gospel Mission, which for years had more beds available than anyone, is no longer operating an emergency overnight shelter. Right now, there is no true walk up shelter anywhere in Chattanooga that I know of. With the Rescue Mission's location, they operate from a list and pick the men and women up at the Community Kitchen. If you are not on the list, you may not be provided a bed. With The Union Gospel Mission's location way out of town we are no longer able to serve the emergency needs of the homeless population of Chattanooga. We are limited to 16 beds.

Our mission has become strictly program driven. We provide two programs: The GRACE Discipleship Program, designed for a six to eighteen month period, which some might call a drug/alcohol rehab program; and our transitional Boarder Program which is not designed to provide permanent housing, but is a program that allows our graduates from GRACE to transition back into the mainstream.

But the number of beds we can offer are a far, far cry from the number of beds that are needed. One of those who responded to the initial opinion piece wrote that what is needed is a true emergency shelter with a 200 bed capacity. Believe it or not, but I believe that number is probably a conservative number. But a rescue mission that could shelter 200 people a night, with various programs available to help the homeless actually get off the streets, would go a long way toward the goal of, at least, reducing the size of the homeless population in our city.

For the second year in row, The Union Gospel Mission is partnering with The Community Kitchen, and Homeless Health, in providing the staff to operate a cold weather shelter. We truly welcome the opportunity to serve. But far more is needed.

Why isn't more being done? The simple answer is funding. At our mission-The Union Gospel Mission-we simply do not have the funds to purchase a building downtown in order to open an emergency shelter. We are working on it. We are, indeed, closer now to opening up a shelter than we have been for the last two years, but we are still not there yet. I like the idea of a march for the homeless, or a race with an entry fee, or any other type of sporting event. I suppose that restaurants could put a one dollar fee on the price of a meal, too. That would be up to the restaurants themselves. You could have a designated day, or a week, to raise some money in that way.

If anyone has an idea for fund raising please feel free to contact us. Our goal is to once more be in business of providing shelter, food, and spiritual guidance for those who, for whatever reason, find themselves out on the street with nowhere to go except under a bridge. We have the infrastructure to do this. We have the beds in storage, the industrial stove and kitchen supplies, and sixty years of tradition behind us. The Union Gospel Mission has been serving the needs of the homeless population of Chattanooga since 1950. We are determined, by the grace of God, to begin once more serving more of those needs than we are doing at present.

Wayne Hammel, Program Director
Union Gospel Mission

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