Last year, a report found that the homeless population in Knoxville increased by 50 percent from 2021 to 2022.
Those numbers have stayed consistent into 2023.
“Homelessness is a real issue here not just in the city but also in the county,” Director of the Office of Housing Stability Erin Read said. “On any given night about 2,000 people are homeless. We all know that something is wrong.”
Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs have combined forces to establish the new Office of Housing Stability.
“My main job is going to be aligning and coordinating resources across both the city and the county to address homelessness with the goal of making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring,” Read said.
She has worked with the Knox County Health Department for over a decade and most recently directed the Substance Misuse Response Division.
“When I did strategic planning for health improvement, mental health and substance misuse were constantly at the top of the priority list,” she said.
Read says along with mental health, substance misuse and lack of health care, a lack of affordable housing is also a major obstacle for the homeless,
“It has a lot to do with rising housing costs. We’re seeing a lot more evictions, we’re seeing a lot more people slip into homelessness simply from losing their housing due to affordability concerns.”
Her office is working on assessing and evaluating the needs of the homeless population and they will work with other groups to come up with a plan based on those needs.
“The City Office on Homelessness and the Homelessness Coalition have been doing this work already for years, and doing a great job, and I think what the joint office brings to the table is more resources, more partners, and a more expansive collaboration by bringing in Knox County government,” Read said.
In the last two years, the city and county have invested more than $80 million in response to housing instability and homelessness. $14.5 million dollars has been designated specifically for the assistance of unhoused residents, according to their release.