Homeless coalition asks for community support to open LaFollette day center

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LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Valley Coalition for the Homeless is waiting for approval from the city of LaFollette to open a day center for the homeless community.

According to a Facebook post from Melanie Cordell, the nonprofit’s executive director, the group started to move into a building on East Central Avenue at the end of January.

The space is part of The Hope Center Thrift Store, owned by The Harbor Church.

A sign on the door stated that the space was temporarily closed to make room for additional services.

Those services, as another sign posted on the door stated, will be part of the propsoed TVCH day center.

Cordell wrote that they started the day center at the Presbyterian Church in LaFollette, “feeding people in need breakfast and lunch and providing hygiene bags, mittens, blankets, and workforce training.”

She wrote that the day center needed more space, and that’s when the Harbor Church offered its location at 245 East Central Avenue.

A few weeks after starting the needed renovations in the building, Cordell wrote that the city told them to “cease operations and go before the planning commission as a Day Center was not considered a business.”

According to Jimmy Jeffries, LaFollette’s city administrator, the building is zoned for commercial use, and for what the day center would provide doesn’t exactly fall under commercial use.

He said that on top of that, the building needs safety improvements because it’s not up to fire code.

Jeffries also said that before the city approves the propsoed day center, they have to take into account city residents as a whole, and there were several residents who didn’t want the day center to be located in downtown LaFollette.

Mark Mills, a volunteer with TVCH, said he formerly experienced homelessness himself, but with the help of TVHC was able to get back on his feet.

He said that the day center isn’t what those who oppose it think it is.

Mills said it won’t be a homeless shelter, but a place for those in need to go to during the day to get help.

He said it would offer hot food, showers, education, work and housing resources and more.

“Everybody in Campbell County, all the businesses and stuff like that, they need come there and sit just for a couple of hours a day and see what goes on there. We don’t have people come off the street just laying down on the floor and sleeping. It’s nothing like that. We’re there to help. We’re there to talk to them. We ain’t there to hurt them. We’re there to upgrade them,” Mills said.

Mills said there were about 360 homeless people in Campbell County who need the help that the Day Center can provide.

On Thursday, the planning commission discussed the day center organizers’ request for a variance with zoning.

Jeffries said that those for and against the center showed up to voice their opinions.

Tonya Wilson was one of those who went to the meeting to show support of the day center.

She walked 14 miles and called out of work so she can be at the meeting and give a voice to those who were like her and struggled with homelessness.

“Somebody’s got to make everyone realize that if they don’t help us, and I am one, then we won’t be able to get where we need to be to be able to get jobs, to be able to have things, to be able to get off drugs,” Wilson said.

Wilson said that she got the courage for the first time to ask for help from TVCH at the planning meeting, but wish she had gone to them sooner.

She said that she had a hard time asking for help, and others experiencing homelessness feel the same.

Ever since Wilson went to rehab, got a job and started to get her life back together, she has been trying to help others as well.

Wilson said that’s why the day center is important for the community of Campbell County; because people need a place to go to when they are ready for help.

“If the people who got money in their pockets will understand what people like me and a few of these others don’t have, and how hard it is to be able to function day to day without having what you need, then I think, like I said, if everyone will come together,” Wilson said.

Jeffries said that the planning commission tabled their vote for another meeting, which will most likely be next month.

He said that in the meantime, the city wants to facilitate meetings with TVCH and those who oppose the day center so they can make a proposal that would meet in the middle.

On Facebook, Cordell was asking the community to reach out to the planning commission and let them know they support the location of the proposed day center.

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