KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — A recently-released report on homelessness in Knox County has shed light on a church’s effort to combat the rising homeless population.

Back in 2020, Cokesbury United Methodist Church launched Fig Tree, a community outreach program designed to help people experiencing homelessness. The organization provides food, clothes, showers, and basic necessities. It also provides hope.

“Ensuring that you don’t have to walk through the toughest season of your life, potentially, by yourself,” explained Katie McIlwain, Director of Outreach Services.

Although Fig Tree is not your standard service provider, volunteers and staff members do provide critical services. A case manager helps clients get their affairs in order. Clients have a place to get mail delivered. Most importantly, clients have an organization that advocates on their behalf.

“I got a place to stay. Things are working out. You come around a place like this and they give you the faith. Makes you stronger.”

Timothy Ayres, Fig Tree client

That mindset seems to have struck a chord with Knox County leaders. In the recently-released homelessness report, Fig Tree was called “a model” in which organizations could use to create their own day centers. McIlwain says part of the Fig Tree’s success that hinges on real-life conversations.

“We take seriously listening to our community members, our unhoused community members, that’s why we’re here. It’s not rocket science, I think if we can do that as well. I think it could make a big difference. It does have implications of increasing mental health and motivating someone to address their addiction and to work toward housing and other things, but they have to feel like their life matters.”

One man told WATE his life changed the moment he stepped off the street and walked through Fig Tree’s doors.

“I finally got off the streets,” said Fig Tree client Timothy Ayres. “I got a place to stay. Things are working out. You come around a place like this and they give you the faith. Makes you stronger. The volunteers and some of the staff members here they’ve been big part of my life and some of these people in here I consider family.”

Both Ayres and McIlwain stress that homelessness isn’t just a county problem, instead, it’s a reflection of the community as a whole. Meaning, everyone has a part to play in addressing the issue. If you would like to learn more about Fig Tree, or how to volunteer, visit its website.

Click here to learn more about the latest Knox County homeless report.