Homeless flocking to Johnson City from across nation, group conc - WNCT

Homeless flocking to Johnson City from across nation, group concerned

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - Johnson City's abundance of organizations aimed at helping the needy is making the city a destination for the homeless from across the nation, according to a grassroots group that's currently studying Johnson City's homeless population.

The task force, which includes concerned citizens, city employees and representatives of area organizations, has started a discussion that could eventually lead to a call for action.

"Our demographic is changing," Johnson City Development Services Director Angie Carrier said. "We've become a destination for some of our homeless and we wanted to see how we could provide services better and more efficiently. We're just doing research. It's a conversation that we wanted to have to see if we could take things to a different level and improve ourselves."

The group has several lofty goals. Among them, the task force wants to break the homeless cycle, work to serve only the local homeless and also stop offering services that attract others to the area.

"Because we do do a good job of providing services, people from out-of-state have heard of that and are coming to seek those services," Patty Muse, a 30-year downtown worker and churchgoer, said. "I see what's happening. I see the positives that are happening downtown and I see ways that the folk who live downtown and who gather downtown might have services provided to them in more efficient ways. There are folk who live in our community who are never going to be able to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. They are always going to need our help and there are those we can help to move on, to find better ways of living and providing for themselves. We have to have conversation and we need to continue conversation for some months to come."

The task force also wants to reduce loitering. Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois is a member of the group. He sees a need for more open communication among agencies, many of which are within blocks of each other.

"What we would like to do is be involved in the process of breaking the cycle of homelessness for whom that can be done," Chief Sirois said. "There's a draw for people to come to where services are available. I think that is an indication that we have a compassionate community. God bless them. They're all doing a great job and all have the best intentions, but it may not be as effective as they want to be, because you can have someone who would maybe go to this one and maybe this one the next day and maybe this one the next day. There are those who could maybe be enabled or I hate to use this phrase but work the system if you will, stay within the system, not really get the help that they need to break the cycle."

Members are also wondering if it'd be a good idea to relocate some services to a centralized location. Carrier has already compiled a list of possible locations. However, she says all of these ideas are just in their discussion stages.

"We've just had discussions about pros and cons," Carrier said. "Is it a good idea to centralize services? Can we better ourselves, be more efficient?"

For some perspective, during the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness' last homeless count in January, ARCH counted 359 homeless people in all of Washington County. Of those, 151 or 42% were not in a shelter at the time of the count.

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