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New positions aim to help Kingsport homeless population

Matthew Lane • Jan 9, 2020 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport has created and filled two key positions within the city to help coordinate services for the homeless population — positions that were first mentioned last fall when city officials announced the creation of a homeless coalition to help manage the growing homeless issue facing the Model City.

The two new positions are a homeless outreach worker (social worker) within the Kingsport Police Department and a homeless services liaison, funded through a partnership between the city and the United Way of Greater Kingsport.

Erin Gray, a lifelong Tri-Cities resident, is the homeless outreach worker. She is a licensed master social worker with more than 10 years’ experience through the Department of Children’s Services and Camelot.

KPD Chief David Quillin said Gray will be out in the community, on her own at times and sometimes with an officer. Her job will be to make the initial contact with a homeless person, assess their needs and then guide them on a path to the best and most appropriate resources.

“The homeless is certainly not unique to the city of Kingsport. No city is immune from these issues, and these actions are an attempt to be proactive with the matter,” Quillin said. “Through our research, some of the more successful programs that address homeless needs, it oftentimes includes a social worker. It’s a better way to help us manage the issue, to try and sync up individuals with their needs.”

COORDINATED ENTRY POINT

Jonathan Anderson, the founder of Engage Tri-Cities, is the homeless services liaison with an office at the United Way. Anderson has 13 years of experience in the faith-based and nonprofit communities, and has worked with local organizations in both Kingsport and North Carolina.

Anderson said he’ll be working with the United Way, the city and partners to bring the homeless coalition members together, while also working in the field, presenting information to the coalition and ultimately helping establish an overall, long-term plan to manage the homeless population.

One main weakness that’s been identified in the past is, while Kingsport has a good amount of disparate organizations helping the homeless, the city doesn’t have a coordinated entry point where folks assess and prioritize a person’s problem and then refer them to the appropriate service.

Anderson said one major goal of the homeless coalition is to address this issue.

“If we focus more and have a coordinated entry system, it would prevent some overlap, and folks won’t be going to the wrong organization for the wrong things,” Anderson said.

KINDNESS AND COMPASSION

Kingsport has long been known as a kind and compassionate community, with many organizations caring for the homeless through feeding programs, shelters and a variety of other ministries.

Recently, the situation has become more complex, as issues related to drug addiction and mental health impact many who find themselves homeless. In addition, navigating the complexity of shelter regulations and waiting lists for public housing have left more people on the streets.

To help address the homeless issue, city and United Way officials last fall started working together on a long-term strategy, with the initial steps being 1) a survey of existing agencies that provide services to the homeless, 2) the creation of a homeless coalition of community members and nonprofits to identify the gaps in services, and 3) the development of a comprehensive action plan.

City Manager Chris McCartt said the survey is already underway and the coalition is in the process of being formed. Once that’s done, then comes the creation of the action plan.

“This is an opportunity to come together and form a collaborative approach of addressing the issue,” McCartt said of the strategy.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Over the past several years, the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community has appeared to grow, despite the point-in-time count (PIT) data remaining relatively consistent. The annual PIT count is conducted each January by the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness (ARCH) through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In 2019, this data showed approximately 150 people in our community experiencing homelessness, further specified as 50 sheltered, 46 unsheltered and 38 transitionally sheltered.

If you’re interested in volunteering for the upcoming PIT count taking place on Jan. 22-23rd, visit www.volunteer-united.org.

The United Way of Greater Kingsport has long supported homeless-serving organizations, including the Salvation Army, Family Promise, Safe House and Hope Haven. These four agencies have enough beds to serve up to 85 adults and children experiencing homelessness on any given night, with a nightly combined average of 55 in 2018.

In addition to these shelter programs, several organizations provide food assistance services, including the Friendship Diner, Kitchen of Hope, Hunger First, Shades of Grace, and nearly 30 other organizations.

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