City, nonprofits rally to secure homeless population

Sandra ClarkInside 640, Our Town Health

How do the 350 individuals who sleep and take meals at Knox Area Rescue Ministries respond to a “safer at home” edict from state and local government? KARM is home to these individuals, yet the nonprofit is not set up to shelter them 24/7.


And what if some show symptoms or test positive for COVID-19?

Wednesday (4/1) afternoon, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon announced a shelter space for homeless persons awaiting test results. While there are no confirmed cases now, Kincannon said it is vitally important to have a designated place for those showing symptoms. “We are pleased so many community partners are joining to help open this shelter.”

Volunteer Ministry Center will provide 24-hour onsite management of The Guest House, an office building owned by the Metro Drug Coalition on West 5th Avenue, which will be retrofitted to provide housing for 18.

KARM, the Knox Baptist Association, United Way, Next Step Initiative, CAC, Angelic Ministries and others have offered resources including food delivery, portable showers and laundry facilities, Kincannon said. The city will provide up to $95,000 to operate the shelter over the next two months and referrals will come from physicians, hospitals and the health department.

Burt Rosen

KARM president Burt Rosen is relieved. KARM staff had a contingency plan for quarantine space on its campus, but the separate site will enhance safety for everyone.

What’s happening at KARM and how can the community help?

  • Intake procedures normally done inside are now being done outside; this includes registration for new guests.
  • Temperatures are taken before anyone, including staff, can enter the building. Those with a fever are referred to the health department.
  • Social distancing: Breakfast-to-go bags are given to overnight guests; lunch and dinner are served in the courtyard when weather permits. Beds and tables have been rearranged, moved farther apart. There are no group meetings.
  • Administrative staff are mostly working from home; those onsite are isolated from the sections of the building where guests are served.
  • Thrift stores are closed until further notice.

The community can help by checking frequently with the KARM website and Facebook page, Rosen said.

  • Volunteers have been banned since mid-March, but Rosen hopes to get some high-impact (experienced) volunteers back in the building soon to relieve staff stress and workload. These volunteers must be virus-free and willing to sign a release.
  • Donations are always helpful, especially with the thrift stores closed.
  • Prayer “is a big deal for us,” Rosen said. Community support and prayers will see the nonprofit through.

And how is Rosen doing? “A little fatigued,” he said. “There’s a high level of intensity as we fight fires.”

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of KnoxTNToday.com

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