Annual Point in Time Count tracks area homeless
A volunteer speaks with a homeless man sleeping under a bridge in Philadelphia. In Hamblen County, officials recently completed the Point in Time Count to track area homeless numbers.
The number of homeless people in Hamblen County has narrowly decreased, according to the annual Point in Time Count; however, a new definition of people at risk of homeless has increased greatly.
Because of a change in the way the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines homelessness the Point in Time Count shows two distinct numbers.
People classified as truly homeless and in shelters total 85 people, down from last year’s 88.
A larger number of people classified as unsheltered or precariously housed (in danger of losing housing at any point or living in a home without utilities) totals 157.
Count leader, Dr. Gary Brewster of the Ministerial Association Temporary Shelter, said the changes made in how the count is defined has led to larger numbers, but allows for public services to obtain a broader look at potential issues and needs.
The number of truly homeless and in shelters has steadily decreased from 2011 when it reached a total of 196 people.
The most alarming figure showed a great increase in the number of women categorized within the count at 142 or 59 percent of the 242-person total.
Of the 242, the largest age range for the count was the 25 and over adult category (126 people) accounting for 52 percent of the total. Children ranging birth to 17 years old (78 people) accounted for 32 percent of the total.
Of the total, 52 family units were represented.
The results also showed that 8 percent of the total figure to be considered chronically homeless.
This year’s count was performed Jan. 28, on one of the coldest nights of the year and subsequent heaviest snowfall the following day.
Brewster said the count could have potentially missed some people because of extreme cold.
After seeing some abandoned shelters during the count, he believes some people may have found shelter elsewhere or were taken into homes of family and friends.
Brewster said the 242-person total is high but mostly because of the definition change, which includes utility payments.
“Many of these people included are people in danger of losing utilities or being removed from their living situation,” Brewster said.
The bitter cold winter has placed a huge need in the area with a record number of at-risk people in need of help with utility bills.
The increase in people needing help has both Morristown-Hamblen Central Services director Barbara Simmons and Brewster concerned because the winter weather will continue to push utility bills up for people who may not be able to pay them or may have to choose to pay bills over other needs and bring an increase to supportive services.
Through data from the Hamblen County School System only five children were classified as homeless.
Brewster said the school figure doesn’t include nearly 460 at risk children who are living in doubled and tripled family housing or other means of shelter.
Volunteers including the Morristown Police Department’s Lt. Nathan Antrican and Capt. Billy Gulley, and various non-profit organizations went out, starting at 4 a.m. (amid the well-below freezing temperatures) to begin surveying areas in which homeless people have been seen gathering.
Brewster acknowledged the relentlessness of Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas, who participated in the count and worked well into the morning to leave no spot unseen.
Another volunteer was a former M.A.T.S. resident who wanted to pay-it-forward. Brewster said the volunteer was vital to the mission because he was able to relate well and ease the minds of those surveyed.
Through Central Services the volunteers handed out gift bags with toiletry, food and warm weather items along with blankets for each person surveyed.
Brewster also acknowledged his gratitude for the help of the police department, which he says goes above and beyond the call throughout the year to help with potential issues of homelessness.
“The compassion shown by our police department to those vulnerable in our community is unseen. Chief Overholt has done an amazing job not only protecting but also serving all residents when in need,” Brewster said.
Once again the downtown area of Morristown still has the highest concentration of homeless, especially within the South Cumberland Street corridor.
Brewster said homelessness in parks has decreased with more efforts made to help those there by the police and other entities.
Brewster said one of the largest reasons for homelessness is mental illness.
“At M.A.T.S., contrary to some beliefs, substance abuse accounts for about 16 percent of homelessness. Mental illness issues between 20 to 24 percent of people,” Brewster said.
The issues of mental illness in relation to homelessness has continued to gain attention on a national spotlight along with mental illnesses relation to gun violence, Brewster said. Because of the attention, progress is slowly being made for better help with those issues.
Brewster noted the recent presence of Helen Ross McNabb clinics to be beneficial.
“They are extremely helpful in the community in helping mentally ill and the homeless with diagnosis. It’s a need in our community and one of the big concerns,” Brewster said.
In support of breaking chronic issues related to homelessness, Brewster said that local entities and resources like the Helping Hands Clinic and First Love on Main have allowed people to receive personal and physical care, which also makes them more employable said.
The results will be added and given to the Tennessee Department of Housing and then to the U.S. Department of Housing to be a part of the larger national report on homelessness presented to Congress.
-By Chris Phipps, Tribune Staff Writer