Winter is here. And when winter blows in as it has this week, business at KARM – Knox Area Rescue Ministries – picks up. Business has also increased because the city of Knoxville recently closed down the homeless camp known as “Under the Bridge” that was literally under the Broadway overpass of I-40.
That closing left an estimated 100 to 200 homeless people without a place to stay.
Karen Bowdle, director of communications & public relations at KARM, shed some light on that when she spoke to the Rotary Club of Farragut on Nov. 14. “Since that camp was closed, our men’s program is at 95 percent capacity and our women’s program is 87 percent full and those are big increases and many are from the camp closing,” she said. “This also increases our costs and our needs – things like sheets and towels, toiletries, the basics.”
No one really knows where all of the homeless in that camp have gone. Some obviously headed across the street to KARM. Many didn’t. To help those homeless, the city is now building what it calls a “Secured Day Center” close to where the camp was located. This center will be fenced in and open during the day, but closed at night. It will provide the “basic amenities” like bathrooms, electricity, water and picnic tables. But no one can stay there overnight.
Approximately 300 people a night shelter at KARM, including men, women, children and families.
Bowdle describes these homeless as people who have “lost the Big 3” – birth certificate, Social Security number or a driver’s license. “They get lost and lose hope, become drug addicts, alcoholics, victims of domestic violence, have depression and have complete financial breakdowns.”
One relatively new KARM initiative chipping away at this problem is its Berea program. Its goal is to transform lives through work, learning and service, created along the lines of Berea College in Kentucky. After food, shelter and other critical needs are met, Berea works with these people to take advantage of a life-changing process combining Christian support with job skills, education and community service.
“The only objective of Berea is to prepare students for the abundant life God has planned for them and to provide a strong, Biblical foundation to build a life upon after KARM, transforming lives and breaking the cycle of homelessness,” KARM writes on its website. Through 2017, 159 men and women have completed the program and today 30 more are in the program.
KARM’s “CityNights” program is held three nights a week on the agency’s front courtyard for the homeless. KARM staff members, led by Pastor Michael Spence, counsel those who stop by – mostly young people who are homeless and lost and runaways and families. It is making an impact, Bowdle said.
She also explained that many of the new homeless today are children who age out of foster care and have no where else to go except to the streets; senior citizens who can’t make it alone; veterans struggling with PTSD and other issues; and families that fall apart financially and emotionally.
“The public wants nothing to do with any of them,” Bowdle said. “The homeless are our modern-day lepers. We can’t just forget them and ignore them. They are human beings who need help finding their way back.”