KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — An Anderson County nonprofit is on a mission to make sure no child sleeps outside.
Thousands of people are experiencing homelessness on any given day in Tennessee. A homeless assistance group in Anderson County is working to offer a solution that gets families off the street and into housing.
“We knew as case workers we were going out and we were meeting with children and their parents and families that were staying out in vehicles in parking lots around town and we were thinking to ourselves why are we allowing children to sleep in cars and in parking lots. There has to be something better,” said Andy O’Quinn, the TORCH Executive Director.
O’Quinn said while investigating shelter solutions the Tennessee Out-Reach Center for Homeless, commonly known as TORCH, implemented the Housing First concept with an emphasis on families with children.
The new model bypasses the need for a congregate shelter and most of TORCH’s families stay in temporary housing for several months.
“People are proud, and they do not want people to know that they’re not making it. So, housing first establishes the dignity of each individual and is not blaming them. It’s just getting them into housing,” said Sheila Michel, the TORCH Founder and Board Chair.
This year TORCH finished building Bookhart Village in Oak Ridge. The duplex and fourplex can house up to six families. There are also three other units off-site. The Oak Ridge Housing Authority manages the properties which allows TORCH case managers to devote more time to help families secure permanent housing.
“We want to try and give the families autonomy so that they can meet with their children and be families first and then homeless is just something that’s happening to them. Rather than being homeless and then trying to be families during that time period,” said O’Quinn.
TORCH wants to share its success in the hopes that other communities can duplicate the Shelter in a Future Home concept and end the generational trauma and cycle of homelessness.
“My favorite story is about a child who was housed here at Bookhart Village and went to school and his first day in the classroom announced to everyone in the class, I have a new home and I have a bunkbed. I might be able to invite you over for a sleepover,” said Michel.
TORCH said their work doesn’t stop here. They will continue to make homes for the homeless. Visit oakridgetorch.org for more information on TORCH’s programs and how to volunteer or donate.