United Together Day of Giving: Local partnerships aiding those experiencing homelessness due to COVID-19


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Richard Smith learned about life on the streets of Knoxville 9 months ago, after losing his online job teaching English to children in China when the school shut down.

He eventually found help from the Salvation Army. Smith got a job and housing there before facing a new scare when novel coronavirus cases started showing up.

“I was vomiting; I had a bad headache, body aches, fever, cough, and extremely weak, ” Richard told us, sharing his symptoms.

Richard was tested for COVID-19 by the Knox County Health Department and sent to a building dubbed “The Guest House” at 530 W. Fifth Ave. The Guest House gave him and others a safe place to isolate while waiting on test results thanks to quick work spearheaded by United Way of Greater Knoxville.

“We pulled together a partnership of nonprofits and for-profits to come up with a solution so that we could really help this population stay isolated, stay safe, and have a place to go while they waited to find out if they were positive or negative,” Brewton Couch of the local United Way affiliate said. “And so The Guest House was born.”

The Guest House had 18 bedrooms, each outfitted with a cot and basic necessities, and room for all kinds of donated supplies.

Zan Schriver of Volunteer Ministry Center was in charge of operations there.

“We have an agency providing showers, another providing food. We had another that brought snacks and linens and different things like that,” Schriver said.

Richard stayed at The Guest House for two days, hopeful results would come back in his favor.

“I tested negative, of course,” he says with a smile. “Thank God, that’s a blessing. I was really scared, though.”

It turns out Richard had double pneumonia. He is now fully recovered.

The Guest House closed May 29 because the number of people experiencing homelessness being tested had dwindled. If the need arises, the United Way and its partners are working on a contingency plan to open back up at the current location, or somewhere else.

VMC’s Bruce Spangler and his staff helped coordinate services at the house. Now they’re making plans for what could happen next.

“We are trying to stage for another Guest House,” Spangler said. “We’re not sure if we’ll be able to do it at the same location, but we do have some contingency plans. I wish I could be a little more detailed, but we are still working through those.”

Richard is grateful The Guest House was there for him.

“The support that the community gives — you know, it keeps everything running and helps so many people in need, especially in this situation,” he said. “So, thank you. Thank everyone so much.”

A total of 63 people stayed at The Guest House. Careful steps were taken to ensure safety on all levels, any addiction issues were assessed and help offered, if needed.

It took so many to make this happen so quickly. Here are some of the local partners:

  • The city of Knoxville provided financial support
  • The Metro Drug Coalition provided the building
  • Salvation Army delivered breakfast and lunch
  • The Next Step Initiative cooked and delivered evening meals
  • Angelic Ministries provided linens, snacks, and furniture
  • Tennessee Emergency Management Agency provided cots
  • Knox County Association of Baptists cooked meals and provided a shower trailer
  • Knoxville Utilities Board provided water drainage arrangement
  • Knox County Health Department coordinated test results and cleaning support through Serv-Pro
  • Local citizens made donations of personal hygiene products
  • Mollenhour Gross donated KN95 masks
  • UTMC, Covenant Health (Ft. Sanders), Cherokee Health provided test result communication
  • AMR transported guests from hospital to the Guest House
  • Hopewell Recovery Services provided addiction assessments
  • Shield & Buckner Security provided facilities security
  • HireQuest provided temporary labor
  • Ellison Supply provided supplies and sanitation set-up
  • Trinity Health Foundation provided financial support

United Way Day of Giving

Join us in giving to United Way of Greater Knoxville’s campaign United Together: A Day of Giving.


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