KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knoxville’s homeless population continues to grow as more people find themselves without a home, according to the city’s recent annual point-in-time (PIT) count.

According to the report, the city found approximately 1,178 people are experiencing homelessness in Knoxville. That total marks a 50% increase from last year.

Of that number, the city said 373 people did not have a shelter and the remaining 805 were either in an emergency shelter or transitional housing. Furthermore, that total is made up of 985 households, 152 children, and 284 people dealing with either a serious mental illness, a substance use disorder, or a physical disability.

“Families with children are being impacted,” Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC) Knoxville CEO Bruce Spangler explained. “You’re finding folks who are about my age in the elderly category who are being affected as well.”

When it comes to why the homeless population is growing, both Spangler and city leaders agreed on a primary cause: affordable housing.

“Increasing house costs, and inflation and tough labor markets,” Knoxville Homelessness Services Coordinator Shawn Griffith said. “It’s making it a really challenging situation and pushing a lot of people into homelessness or on the verge of it.”

“That’s just forcing a lot of folks out of the market on affordability,” Spangler explained. “Not only do you have to afford the rent, you have to afford the utilities.”

“Homelessness isn’t a description of a person so much as of an event. Keep that in mind that we’re talking about people.”

Bruce Spangler, VMC CEO

While the issue’s causes are clearer to see, its solution is not as experts say help is needed on several fronts.

“It boils down to public policy,” Spangler said.

It is important to note that the city of Knoxville and several service organizations around the city have partnered together to combat homelessness.

For example, the city has dedicated over 14 million dollars toward the construction of over 1,000 affordable housing units. Meanwhile, VMC has increased its outreach operations and personnel.

“The city is trying to fill gaps in funding to get affordable housing developed in our community because that’s key to hopefully preventing homelessness and making units available,” said Michael Dunthorn, Homeless Program Coordinator.

When it comes to what community members can do to help curb the number of people experiencing homelessness in Knoxville, Spangler suggests voicing concerns to policymakers and people in government/leadership positions.

You can view Knoxville’s previous PIT reports below: