Historic South Knox school offers fresh start for the homeless

Historic South Knoxville school offers fresh start for the homeless

The building has gone through a complete renovation and had an addition built behind the old school. The building has gone through a complete renovation and had an addition built behind the old school.

6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Neighbors have been fighting it for years, but soon an apartment complex for the homeless will open in South Knoxville.

The former Flenniken Elementary School sat empty for nearly 20 years. The building was dilapidated and in danger of collapse, but now it will house 48 homeless people.

Crystal Corona is new to the neighborhood, and had no idea when she moved in that the old school building you can see from her front porch would soon be an apartment complex dedicated to helping the homeless.

"I was a little leery at first, definitely with all the children we have in the neighborhood," said Corona. 

That's how a lot of Corona's neighbors felt about housing the homeless in their neighborhood.

Arnela Gregory lives in an apartment building, which offers affordable housing to senior citizens, right next door to the new Flenniken Landing.

"I was against it. I fought against it for two years at the city council meetings and stuff," said Gregory. "When it went through, I decided okay, I've got to cope with it and go the other way."

Gregory has not only changed her mind, she's decided to welcome her new neighbors and participate in the success of the facility.

"Now I'm probably going to be doing some volunteer work over there and teaching some classes because I used to teach home economics," she said.

Gregory's not the only one who's come around after witnessing the transformation of Flenniken Elementary School from a dilapidated, overgrown structure to an attractive apartment complex.

Knoxville Leadership Foundation, the non-profit group behind the project, plans to take measures to make sure people who live in the facility are good neighbors and that it's an asset to the community.

They've been holding community meetings to answer questions and clear up any misconceptions.

"A lot of people think that we're just going to go gather people off the street and move them in here, said KLF President Chris Martin. "Most of the folks that live here will have to pay rent. They will be folks that are in some kind of process of getting healthy."

The building has gone through a complete renovation and had an addition built behind the old school.

Today there is no sign of the former school gym, which was a real mess, complete with birds that had moved in.

Now it's a well-appointed community meeting room. Large classrooms have been turned into fully furnished studio and one bedroom apartments.

Martin says several local churches supplied dishes, linens and furnishings to make the place feel more like a home.

"We've just tried to put some things out here because if you've been living on the street, or in a program, then you move out here you don't have anything," Martin said.

Flenniken Landing will have full time security. There are 30 security cameras throughout the facility so public areas like the parking lot, hallways, and community room can be monitored.

There will also be two social workers to help residents and a full time apartment manager on duty during daytime hours.

"The security will be good," said Corona. "That way they can keep an eye on what they're actually doing over there. I'd hate for, you know, any illegal activity to go on."

Dollie Riddley's apartment faces Flenniken Landing, but she says she has no concerns over her future neighbors.

"Oh, I think it's great. It's wonderful," she said. "Everybody needs a home. Don't you think so? Yes, indeed. Maybe it will give somebody a good start."

Flenniken Landing residents must undergo criminal background checks. Anyone who's committed a violent crime, had a serious drug conviction or is a sex offender can't move in.

It takes about four to six weeks for prospective residents to qualify. Knoxville Leadership Foundation officials hope the first renters will move in around December 1.

The facility can accommodate 48 people. Only single residents qualified.

Federal grants paid for most of the $7 million project. There will be a community barbeque and public tours on Saturday, November 12 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

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