Kingsport Times-News: Who are Kingsport's homeless?
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Who are Kingsport's homeless?

Staff • Dec 30, 2018 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The people working directly with the city’s neediest residents offer a number of examples of the types of homeless people they encounter.

THEY’RE LIVING IN CARS

Pastor Will Shewey at Shades of Grace told of a family — mother, father and three children — who were living in a vehicle.

Shewey and Shades of Grace helped to find them a home.

“Nobody knows how many people are sleeping in their cars. … We’ve had elderly widows, elderly women who are living in vehicles. These things even surprise me sometimes.”

But Shades of Grace and the agencies it partners with are working with families to get them places to live.

“There are people every week getting off the streets into permanent housing, but there are lots of children involved. There are lots of families,” Shewey said.

THEIR FAMILIES ARE BROKEN

Hunger First Executive Director Michael Gillis tells of a woman who visited the agency on Christmas Eve three years ago. She drove a nice car and was well dressed, but she was there to get food.

“She didn’t fit the bill,” Gillis said. But she had been laid off from her job of 15 years, and her husband left her, according to Gillis. She had children to care for, and she was about to lose her home. Gillis said she knew she was going to be homeless, but she wanted to get through Christmas.

“It’s not just alcohol. It’s not just drugs. It’s those situations too,” he said.

THEY HAVE MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

Shewey tells of a woman he found in the alley behind the church several weeks ago.

“We tried to help her for two days. She was so mentally deranged … entirely schizophrenic. I go out to talk to her and to give her food, and she’s totally oblivious to me.

“Probably as much as addictions is the mental component, from my experience.”

And, yes, many are substance abusers

“A great majority of the people are drug-addicted. That’s the reality of it. They made a bad choice, and they’re hooked. It controls their lives,” Shewey said.

SOME HAVE BEEN INCARCERATED

“We deal with people that have been in jail,” Shewey said. “Oftentimes the deputies will drive them from Blountville, if they’re coming this way, and drop them off at our front door. We will give them a clean, complete set of clothing, shoes, socks, everything they need.”

THEY’RE BUNKING WITH FAMILY OR FRIENDS

“The majority of the families I work with are temporarily staying with friends or relatives. It’s called ‘doubled-up,’ and it’s due to a loss of housing or economic hardship,” said Michele Wilder, homeless education program coordinator for Kingsport City Schools.

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