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Leaders discuss ways to address homeless issue in Kingsport

Holly Viers • Sep 22, 2019 at 8:30 PM

KINGSPORT — City and community leaders are getting on the same page when it comes to addressing homelessness in the Model City.

A crowd of people gathered at the Kingsport Chamber on Thursday for a meeting of the Kingsport Homeless Ministry. The group was established last year to raise awareness of homelessness and identify solutions.

Some leaders outlined future plans to address the issue, while others discussed steps that have already been taken. For example, the Kingsport Police Department recently informally designated one officer to respond to homeless issues, while the city is in the process of forming a code enforcement task force and a homeless coalition.

“Since June 21, there has literally not been a day go by that I have not had a phone call, text message or a conversation regarding this subject. I think the (police) chief and I probably talk six days a week, and probably five of those are regarding this issue,” City Manager Chris McCartt told the group. “You can leave here today knowing that your city is on top of this, and we are working aggressively to get ourselves in the position to be able to manage and facilitate this in order to address it properly.”

What’s being done?

KPD Chief David Quillin said he’s spoken with other police departments across the country to get ideas on how to address the homeless issue. He visited the Colorado Springs Police Department in July and has already implemented some of the tactics used there, including designating one officer for homeless issues and increasing downtown foot patrols by 15-20 hours a week.

Quillin said the department plans to hire a social worker and install blue light phones downtown in the future. McCartt echoed the need for a social worker and added that he and Quillin will meet with the United Way of Greater Kingsport next week to get the ball rolling on the new coalition.

Chad Duncan, division director of adult outpatient addiction services for Frontier Health, said some of his staff recently began traveling to Shades of Grace United Methodist Church to connect with homeless people where they are. This has resulted in a few new referrals over the last month, he said.

Making changes

Alderman James Phillips stressed that the homeless issue has two parts. He feels homelessness itself is being managed well by organizations, but more attention needs to be given to the mental health and public safety issues that sometimes coincide with homelessness.

Duplication of services is another big issue that needs to be addressed, Phillips added.

“From Higher Ground to the Minute Market, there are 14 soup kitchens. That’s 14 organizations doing their own thing, focused on their own objective, rowing their boat in its own direction,” Phillips said. “A city of Kingsport’s size needs about four total. We have 14 in a two-mile stretch.”

Next steps

The ministry is working to find a building for a day center. The group is considering locations in Lynn Garden and other areas of the city, away from downtown.

Ultimately, the goal is to give homeless people the chance to connect with others and find resources that address their specific needs. Bryce Green, who was formerly homeless, shared his perspective with the group and emphasized the need for a stable environment, like a day center, and access to therapy.

“Their mindset is what needs to be worked on to start them on a path to getting where they want to be in life. … Time frames play a key part,” Green said. “If enough time passes without change, they will more than likely become chronically homeless the rest of their life.”

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