KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Homelessness is a growing problem in many cities across the country, including Knoxville. Burt Rosen, CEO and President of Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) expressed frustration with the issue on social media this week.
The post was also meant to garner attention toward the increasing number of people living on the streets within the city, the conditions in which they live, and ultimately, find solutions. He acknowledged there is a lot of effort being put into this issue, he believes more could be done. “You only have to look out on the streets to say what we’re doing is not working the way we would like it to be working,” he said.
While many of the problems existed before the pandemic, he’s watched the number of homeless people climb. The gang violence and drug consumption, he said, “can’t go on anymore.”
While he doesn’t have a surefire solution, he hopes the right groups will come together with the purpose of finding one, as it’s now a problem he sees impacting new parts of the city. He also pointed out that for a homeless person to re-enter society successfully, they need a place to live, a way to pay for it, and meaningful engagement. He believes that would best be achieved by shifting the focus of the ongoing efforts.
Rosen is interested in finding ways to enable those experiencing homelessness to store their possessions, and have access to clean, dry, clothing to enable them to be presentable for an appointment, or a part-time job. Those are just a couple things he thinks could tip the scale for those chronically living on the streets.
KARM has completed grant proposals aimed at removing barriers that prevent people from accessing existing services.
In the past, he explained, there has been an emphasis on permanent, supportive, housing; while Rosen believes that continues to be a need, he believes that shouldn’t be the only priority. He plans to work with local business leaders to see who would be willing to allow a person, experiencing homelessness, to work. Even a day could give someone hope and help them land on their feet, he believes.
“We watched this problem move from Blackstock to Broadway, back to Blackstock, to Broadway, under the railroad property, and it’s just time to put an end to this cycle,” he said.
With the Broadway viaduct set to be completed next year, Rosen thinks the time for new solutions is now. “Let’s see if we can get ahead of the curve here and do something different this time and address some of these things now before it opens up, before a ballpark potentially begins construction, even though that’s off a way before that actually occurs,” he said.
While he said KARM, Volunteer Ministry Center, and Salvation Army, all do “wonderful” work, there is still a lot of hesitation among some of the homeless population to get access to those services, whether that be related to a substance abuse problem, mental health issue, or fear of retaliation. By removing barriers, he believes more people will connect to needed services, and ultimately lead to a more successful outcome.
“Our assumption is that once those people break free in beginning to get help, the predatory population is not going to have much interest in staying here,” he added.
Rosen also cited research finding a person is usually homeless three times before they get out. He hopes to limit that to two, or perhaps, even one. “We’ve got to do it a little bit differently to do that,” he said.