Coalition looks into helping with area’s homeless

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By Cindy Simpson

A new program to help the homeless may be forming in Roane County.

The Roane County Homeless Coalition was formed last year to look at the issues facing the homeless.

It will have a public meeting next month to explore interest in Family Promise, which has an interfaith hospitality network program geared at using community churches and community members to provide on a weekly rotating basis overnight accommodations and meals for homeless families.

Donna Lawson, director of Southeast Region for Family Promise, will be at the open meeting at 6:30 p.m. March 11 in Rockwood First Christian Church on Rockwood Street.

“I think it is a huge opportunity for the churches to come together and the community to come together to help solve a problem we see every day,” said Jennifer Watson, a member of Roane County Homeless Coalition.

It’s going to take work, but it’s something she believes strongly the community can pull together and do.

“It is a huge, organized volunteer driven program,” Watson said.

More than 125,000 people are volunteering in 5,000 congregations throughout America in Interfaith Hospitality Networks. Programs exist in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Cleveland.

Watson said they’ll need churches to volunteer space for a week at a time to house families, which would be estimated at no more than around 15-18 people at a time in the program.

If they get enough church participation, that would mean about four weeks of the year a church congregation would have to commit to opening up space and offering other assistance such as providing meals to the families.

The program would include a day house where families would go during the day to meet daily needs, including working with a case worker on obstacles and to help them find and keep permanent housing.

Transportation would be a big need that will need to be met for the program, including driving people from the places they slept to the day house and other places like job interviews and doctor’s appointments for those families without vehicles.  

Watson said the issue of homelessness is very real in Roane County, even if it isn’t as much of the more visual homelessness of people sleeping in their car or street.

“A lot of the homeless we see and a lot of other agencies see is when you have a whole family that has to stay on a couch and living room floor, and they have to move on after” a few days to somewhere else, Watson said.

“These kids have got to go to school … These people have to have a job, and it is really hard when you are moving around,” she added.

It’s impacting more families who never thought it would be an issue they’d face.

“I think a lot of times any more it is people you would think would never be homeless,” Watson said. “It is people you know.”

Statistics show the number of homeless in America ranges from 2 million to 3 million, 40 percent of which are families.