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Everyone's talking about Kingsport's homeless problem

Matthew Lane • Updated Sep 25, 2019 at 9:10 AM

KINGSPORT — When Kingsport installed wooden blocks on the benches in Glen Bruce Park and along the Kingsport Greenbelt, it sparked a conversation all across town. Was it an appropriate measure to help curb criminal activity or a cruel action against our city’s homeless population?

It depends on who you ask. Folks are talking about the issue in the workplace, on the radio and on social media. The comments on the Times News Facebook page run the gamut — some are ashamed of the measure and many are calling the city heartless and cruel for installing the wooden blocks.

Others are applauding the city for taking action, citing the illegal drug activity taking place in the park and at other locations throughout downtown. Many commenters admit the homeless issue is complex, with some saying the city needs a better plan to address the problem.

Chris Markley, the director of the Kingsport Public Library, said when it comes to the homeless and major issues at the library, nothing particularly stands out in her mind.

“By and large we don’t have any specific issues with any one demographic. Nothing overwhelming that we can pin on any one demographic,” Markley said. “The library serves the entire community, and as long as you’re following the behavior policy, we welcome everyone.”

A VOLUNTEER OPINION

“There’s been plenty of hot posts on Facebook, very accusing, finger-pointing posts. I have yet to see one that has said ‘What can I do to help?’” said Gail Preslar, a volunteer with the Friends of the Kingsport Public Library organization.

Preslar comes to the library numerous times during the week and sees what’s going on in and around the building. She talks to library staff, patrons of the library and some of the homeless who frequent the library as well as the park.

She also volunteers with Friendship Diner at First Broad Street UMC, Terrific Tuesday’s at Community UMC and with Family Promise of Greater Kingsport. Preslar, who describes herself as a woman of faith, believes the city should have massive prayer to help solve the issue.

“It’s a very complex issue, and for every single individual involved, there’s a different reason. Some falls under mental health, poor socialization, drug issues and laziness. Each part of it is a little bit different,” Preslar said. “These people don’t have a place to go during the day, and they need a place to go. But that’s not going to solve all of the problems, and a lot of these people don’t want to stay or be in a shelter. They want to be out.”

SEEKING PUBLIC REACTION

The Times News attempted to speak to several homeless people in Glen Bruce Park on Tuesday about the wooden blocks and whether or they would make a difference in their lives. One woman did not want to talk to the media at all, another man said he did not think the blocks would make much difference, while one man ignored us completely and walked off.

Two men, who did not wish to be identified, frequent the library and the park, and both said they had no problem with the wooden blocks, but again they weren’t sure what difference they would make.

A man named Scott did agreed to speak on the record but did not want to share his last name. Scott said he wasn’t homeless, but that he has lived among the homeless since 2001. He sat on the metal bench by the children’s department entrance to the library, backpack by his feet, and shared his thoughts about the homeless.

“I’ve not seen anyone laying on the benches, and I’m not sure they’re going to be of any help,” he said.

Kingsport is Scott’s hometown and he believes it’s the best town to be in. He admits part of the problem are the homeless who have drug and alcohol dependencies and the ones who panhandle.

“I think some people are looking down on the homeless as a way to feel better about themselves,” he said.

A MOTHER’S PERSPECTIVE

Callie Willcox of Kingsport brings her two small children to the library every week for story time. She supports the idea of the wooden blocks on the benches, though she admits she’s not fully aware of the whole situation regarding the homeless.

“We’re here for story time, and we come here every week. Talking about the homeless, I personally am glad there’s not one sleeping (in the park),” Willcox said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing my kids to this pretty fountain. I would just get in my car and go.”

AN ONLINE SAMPLING

Here are a few comments from our Times News Online Facebook page, posted to the original story on the wooden blocks.

“Definitely an attack on the homeless. Snooty Kingsport officials! I hope they sleep good at night in their big comfy beds!”

“I'm not saying right or wrong but my storage unit rentals had to close because of a few who chose to break in and sleep in the empty units until the owner had no choice but to close them.”

“Never thought I would see something like this from my hometown! Things must have gone drastically wrong since I left home! I'm not even sure what to think!”

“Everyone is so quick to trash their fellow citizens as uncompassionate and ignorant, which does nothing to bring the community together around solutions that will help those who are in need of help while also protecting public safety.”

“What crimes are committed that will be deterred by this being placed on a bench?”

“Oh my goodness people. Look at the bigger picture. If you ain’t out feeding and housing the homeless then you need not cast shade!”

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