Help for the homeless

Sandra ClarkEast Knox, Our Town Neighbors

Yolanda Grant seemed tired at Monday’s meeting of Town Hall East. That happens when a person stretches a regular workday until 9 p.m. Grant’s job is crucial to coping with Knoxville’s homelessness. She’s the one who brings resources together to get help fast for those desperate to find or retain housing.

Yesterday we met Shawn Griffith, one of two homeless program coordinators for the city of Knoxville. Tomorrow we’ll meet KPD Sgt. Thomas Clinton. If you see them as the carrot and the stick, then see Yolanda Grant as the spider – eight arms reaching for the homeless, pulling them into a web of individuals and groups that want to help.

“We work on the ‘housing first’ model,” said Grant. “We don’t expect them to get it together before they have a place to live.” Having a home enables people to keep and take their medications and connect with community resources.

This chart shows agencies and nonprofits that stand ready to help. The trick is to streamline the application process while prioritizing those with the greatest needs and vulnerability. It wastes time to sign up for senior housing or veterans’ programs if you don’t fit the category.

Enter CHAMP – coordinated housing assessment and match plan. The goal – get people into safe, temporary housing and then help them move toward long-term housing – most often federally subsidized with a wait-list.

And the local programs are working – 1,635 homeless individuals were housed in 2021. But another 2,000 homeless people turned up – either through eviction, loss of job or folks moving in from rural counties that lack services.

What would help?

Grant said, “Work with us,” by contributing to existing programs. “Don’t bring food and set it out under the bridge. These people don’t have refrigerators.”

She said we would have fewer homeless people if the state participated in Medicaid. Tennessee is one of just 12 states that has not opted in. The city has much more information online

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today Inc.

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