Split into small groups of two or three, approximately 20 people held signs that said “Homeless but not hopeless” and “What would you do if you had no home to go to?”
Michael Gillis, executive director of Hunger First, said he wanted to stage the protest to raise awareness of the city’s homeless.
“Nothing is said about our homeless,” he said. “Let’s be honest with ourselves. Kingsport doesn’t want to recognize her homeless. It’s a great place to stay and I don’t understand that.”
The city and Kingsport Police Department knew about the protest in advance. Gillis said the small groups were spread across the city to avoid disrupting the opening of Centennial Park. Protesters could be found close to Wilcox and Sullivan Street, Center Street and Fort Henry Drive and Center Street and Eastman Road.
The organization wanted to be in high-traffic areas so people would notice the signs. There was no marching or chanting because Gillis said the homeless problem is a silent one.
Gillis said the protest came about after he had a community meeting one Saturday a few months ago at Hunger First, which is a no-questions-asked, free store. Gillis said he wanted to have the meeting because he felt the community and his nonprofit organization needed to do something for the homeless other than talk about the problem.
Hunger First released a new vision recently, part of which was to establish a homeless shelter in the city. Gillis said there are not enough services offered in the city for its homeless population. He said there are currently 106 homeless adults and 258 homeless children inside Kingsport.
The protest was also an attempt to destroy the myths about the homeless population.
“We have a moral obligation and responsibility to take care of our brothers and sisters,” he said. “It should not matter where they come from, what they do, why they do it. It should not matter. That is what Hunger First is all about.”
Gillis also wanted the silent protest to spur action from the community. He said the organization has a golden opportunity to improve lives, but it cannot be done without financial support from individuals or businesses.
He said the nonprofit was not doing the protest to cause a disruption but has always been a willing advocate for the homeless. It was simply to raise awareness and drum up community support.
“We need the community to come together,” he said. “Help us get those people off the streets. That is the whole reason why we are doing this.”