As the City of Knoxville begins work on their plan to create a better daytime space for the homeless population in Knoxville, many are left seeking a place to stay until it’s completed.
Last week, underneath the Interstate 40 overpass on Broadway, sat countless tents, garbage, as well as dozens of homeless people. Tuesday, a construction site sat in their place.
The city’s long-term plan is to pave the area, put up new fencing, add portable restrooms, and even hire a security team to open the site in the morning and close it at night. They plan also calls for contracting three social workers to assist with the issues facing homeless people and help find them a permanent home.
Karen Bowdel with the Knox Area Rescue Ministries says they’ve noticed an uptick in occupancy since the work began. She says 97 percent of the men’s shelter was full last night and 83% of the women’s shelter.
“We hope this drastic change will be motivation to get people into our programs and turn their life around,” Bowdel said.
Steven Greer, a homeless man, says “where are they going to go,” for the friends of his who won’t seek the services of KARM.
Greer says it’s important to know a lot of people are homeless because of circumstances, not because they want to be.
“People do need help in this world. Sometimes we fall on bad situations and then we get hooked up and crossed up into different things and sometimes we get stuck,” he said.
Greer also says the improvements the city is making will be helpful in the long run. Living on the street isn’t easy, Greer explained.
“You got to stand out here, you get wet, people get sick. And me, I’m 59 years old, I just turned 59, it’s a lot harder on older people.”
He knows some people are hiding instead of seeking help from a shelter. “I tell any kid out there today, do what you need to do in school, get an education and mind your parents because this ain’t no life to live.”
Karen Clark has been homeless since she was 18. She says she came to Knoxville from Roane County years ago to get help, but keeps getting denied due to domestic assault and drug charges on her record.
While Clark believes the changes are good for the people under the overpass, she also doesn’t know where to go, because she doesn’t want to go to KARM. She says she will if it gets too cold.
She explains the atmosphere under the bridge was “like family.”
“Now, it’s to the point where they just came in there and booted us out,” Clark said.
Michael Dunthorn, program coordinator for the City’s Office on Homelessness, says his goal is to find everyone without a place to sleep a permanent, affordable home.
While he acknowledges some within the homeless population aren’t prepared to take part in programs offered by nonprofits, he believes there is enough space within the various nonprofit shelters in the city to accommodate those who lived under the overpass.
Dunthorn says any shuffling of a homeless camp is complaint-driven and KPD officers “are not out hunting.”
In short, he says his office isn’t trying to criminalize homelessness, but rather end the problem in the City of Knoxville.
If you would like to do something to help with the ongoing issue, he says call the organizations that work everyday to combat the issue to find out the best way to help.
Dunthorn hopes to have the day space plan fully implemented in two-to-three weeks.