Knoxville council approves plan for ‘low barrier’ homeless shelter

Local News

A safe place to offer those experiencing homelessness in North Knoxville for laying their head at night is what city officials discussed Tuesday. 

Knoxville city council members unanimously approved a new emergency shelter and facility that is a collaboration between two nonprofit organizations at a space already in close proximity to the city’s “Day Space” beneath the I-40 bridge at Broadway. 

It’s the latest response to that issue just north of downtown.

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One response we’ve already shown you, in that same area, is the new homeless “day space” that opened in December beneath the I-40 bridge along Broadway.  The area in which it opened had already been a crowded campsite. The aim is a cleaner, safer place for people to go.

Leaders think the “day space” is proving successful, but there’s more needed to aid those experiencing homelessness – such as, where can they go at night? 

WATE 6 On Your Side reporter Elizabeth Kuebel looked into a proposal for something new next door. 

Volunteer Ministry Center is proposing a low-barrier housing facility focused on overnight emergency shelter. 

“Low-barrier” means no drug and alcohol testing, a shelter that’s not “rule compliant” but “safety compliant” and it’s all about housing, not healing.

Plans are now in the works to turn the old Salvation Army thrift store, which is just near the “day space,” into a low barrier, emergency shelter. 

It’s a collaborative effort between the Salvation Army and Volunteer Ministry Center. 

“Everybody deserves a shelter over their head. Everybody deserves a fresh cot, if I may put it that way. And so it is an attempt to address those individuals who are under the bridge,” said VMC CEO Bruce Spangler.

The new shelter will provide about 40 to 45 beds and various amenities, including showers and a laundry room. 

But a key element, VMC says, is services that are housing-focused.

“Most importantly they will have a resource of a housing case manager,” Spangler said. “Our ultimate goal is for Joe or for Sally who is experiencing homelessness is to achieve housing.”

The plan is to call the new development “The Foyer.” 

It’s an effort to reach those not accessing traditional emergency shelters.

“First and foremost, it’s not a program. So the very first thing that we are concerned about is about safety,” Spangler said.

And it’s a good option in the minds of the people experiencing homelessness day to day.

“I think this is going to be a good opportunity,” said Renae Jordan, who is experiencing homelessness.

The city is considering $245,000. That’s a capital investment to renovate the old thrift store building. 

Spangler tells us he’s responsible for raising operating dollars, which would total about $250,000 to $300,000 annually.

The idea, by the way, is for that shelter to stay open from 4 in the afternoon to 8:30 in the morning, seven days a week. 

VMC officials are hoping to open in late summer or early fall of this year.

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