Homeless: ‘It can happen so quickly, so easily’

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By Cindy Simpson

Homelessness isn’t just a big-city issue.


Even in rural locales like Roane County, residents are finding themselves on the streets.

They come from all walks of life. Some dealing with lost jobs. Others deal with mental illness.

Steven Jackson said he’s living wherever he can in Kingston after losing the one place he did have to stay.

He was living there without utilities, a violation of Kingston city ordinances.

“It can happen so quickly, so easily,” Jackson reflected. “My parents are deceased. I don’t have no family. I don’t expect the government or the world to take care of me.

“I get on my knees and go to get back up — and get knocked back down by the system.”

Kingston Police Chief Jim Washam said city officials put the utilities ordinance in place  because of sanitation concerns, particularly in homes lacking wastewater services.

Jackson had already been told he could not stay at the home, which Washam said had been abandoned by the owner. It has since been sold for back taxes.

“He did have permission to stay there from time to time,” Washam said.

However, with no electricity or running water and concerned neighbors, the police took action.

“We had asked him to leave several times before we ever wrote a citation, and we hated to do it,” Washam said. “After that, he was arrested for criminal trespass.”

Washam said they’ve had recent reports from people who say they’ve seen Jackson lingering around houses up for sale, and he thinks he may be looking for a place to find shelter.

Washam is concerned that may lead to another run-in with the

law — or worse, if a frightened property owner comes across him.

“We are concerned about his safety,” Washam said.

“We’ve been trying to keep a close eye on him, because he’s been found on the floor of the city park restrooms,” the chief added. “He told us at one point he was staying on the riverbank in a makeshift house.”

Jackson is the first to admit he hasn’t been perfect, but he said he wants to work and provide for himself.

“I’m 54. I worked since I was 13 up until 2012,” he said.

“I’m not a lazy person. I’m a Christian. I try to serve the

He said he worked as a nursing aide in the health-care field for 30 years before injuring his back.

“I ruptured three discs,” he said. “I got unemployment in March. I put in for my disability.”

Jackson said his employer laid him off so he could receive unemployment.

He was recently sent to a psychiatric facility after he went to the Kingston Police Department.

He was told they could not give him a ride to a facility, but Jackson said they called for a psychological evaluation after he told them if it wasn’t for his fear of God, he would lie on Interstate 40 and let the tractor trailers strike him.

“After 14 hours sitting in the emergency room, then they decide to let me go,” Jackson said.

Afterward, a mobile crisis unit took him to a psychiatric facility for group meetings.

He said he was told after treatment to go to one of the Knoxville shelters. He said he was turned away for various reasons, including that they were full.

He said he again called mobile crisis, who gave him a ride back to Kingston.

Jackson said he’s going for another psychiatric evaluation in Harriman this week. He hopes that will result in housing.

Resources for Jackson to find affordable shelter are limited.

No shelters presently exist in Roane County.

Catholic Charities previously operated a shelter in the area, but it was designed to house families and married couples. Accommodations limited them from taking in single men.

Operating in Harriman, the shelter moved to Rockwood before it closed in 2008.