Fri
Dec 4 2020
03:54 pm
By: michael kaplan

In response to questions I posed to Michael Dunthorn in the city's Office on Homelessness, I received the following response (below). I have highlighted two phrases in his response. The city claimed the shelters could accommodate all the displaced Blackstock residents. So I asked whether the displaced persons took advantage of those available beds. Apparently they did not, as "many chose to relocate to other, smaller encampments." So I asked whether the city intended to proceed with the demolition of those "smaller encampments." No response yet from Mr. Dunthorn. Second, he stated that "the incidence of COVID-19 in the homeless population here has remained extremely low." So I asked why then would the homeless not be permitted to remain in their encampments during the pandemic, per CDC guidelines. No reponse yet.

Mr. Kaplan,

In collaboration with our nonprofit community partners, the City of Knoxville is continuing to work on the difficult issue of unsheltered homelessness. Before and during the time that the clearing at Blackstock occurred, people in those encampments were contacted and provided options to connect with shelter and other resources to help them. Everyone was given the opportunity to collect their belongings, and many were provided wheeled totes to help with this. Following the clearing at Blackstock, some individuals were able to reunite with their families, some did opt to go into shelter, and many chose to relocate to other, smaller encampments.

Outreach and case management work continues, and with help of funding from the City, Volunteer Ministry Center is in the process of hiring four additional street outreach workers. CAC has hired one additional street outreach worker with support from Knox County, and is also expanding outreach and case management to assist families experiencing homelessness. Shelters continue to have beds available to accommodate people, even as they space those beds out and implement other COVID protocols in coordination with the health department. VMC, in coordination with the Health Department operates the Guest House, in order to accommodate homeless individuals who are either awaiting COVID test results or who have tested positive and must quarantine while they recover. Fortunately so far, the incidence of COVID-19 in the homeless population here has remained extremely low.

With additional Cares Act funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, we are working to provide additional resources to our community partners to support outreach, housing placements, homelessness prevention, and shelter enhancements, and are looking for options to provide specialized shelter and resources for youth and families who experience homelessness.

Knoxville, like every other city in this country, is facing extremely difficult challenges in addressing homelessness during a pandemic. I work every day with our community partners who are tirelessly doing incredible work to meet the needs of as many individuals and families as they can. While a vaccine is now on the horizon, their determination and those efforts will continue through the winter.

Michael Dunthorn
City of Knoxville Office on Homelessness

michael kaplan's picture

Mayor Kincannon's October 6

Mayor Kincannon's October 6 comment on the Blackstock demolition: "This is not an unusual step. We've done this before, before I was mayor."

This reminds me of Trump's comment that his immigration policy was just an extension of Obama's.

Both are true, but hardly justification for inhumane policies.

JaHu's picture

We may have the answer to

We may have the answer to Knoxvilles homeless sitting right before us.
Turn Neyland Stadium into a homeless camp! After this latest investigation the Vols may no longer be needing it. It already has men and women's bathrooms in place that can accommodate thousands of people. It even has showers. The concession stands could easily be used to provide meals. The bleachers seats could be removed and converted to be used as shed roof trusses throughout the stadium to provide a roof over their heads for protection from the elements. There are classrooms inside of Neyland that could be used for education programs to train the homeless for jobs to help get them off the streets. The training rooms could be used for onsite health clinics. Shoot!!! They could show movies on the jumbotron to keep them entertained. And the kind patrons who donate millions of dollars to the football program, I feel certain, they would love to see their money be used instead of football but as a means to fund this!

JaHu's picture

Tiny Home Project in Albuquerque

michael kaplan's picture

A resolution to provide

A resolution to provide designated, legal campgrounds for the homeless - sponsored by Amelia Parker - will be on the Knoxville City Council agenda Tuesday night, February 23, 2021. See link below for full text of resolution:

(link...)

The council meeting will be virtual and start at 6:00pm. It can be seen online at (link...)

jbr's picture

Tiny Home Village now open, first residents move in

Maybe communities should have to maintain one home for a much lower income level. So for instance if you allow a builder to build Fox Den, one lot and home must be provided to a family in a poverty level income bracket as long as they stay employed and maintain their home.

Providing the homes in the video, and groups of housing that are around town is ok, but I think spreading those families out into different environments has more impact.

Tiny Home Village now open, first residents move in

bizgrrl's picture

It used to be done, sorta

It used to be done, sorta kinda. Take a look at some of the houses in Sequoyah Hills, South Knoxville, and North Knoxville. In all three places there are a mix of expensive and inexpensive homes. One problem is that the inexpensive homes are now expensive. Used to be the case also off of Magnolia. There were lots of big expensive homes there as well mixed in with the smaller less expensive homes.

Planned communities are great but I think the attitude of less government (or something) has hurt.

michael kaplan's picture

From Amelia Parker: "I was

From Amelia Parker: "I was disappointed that none of my colleagues on council granted me a second on my resolution regarding encampments so that we could engage in a very important and urgent discussion regarding our plan for transitioning individuals from the streets to housing. We all share the goal of a Knoxville with no encampments. However, the process of building trust and connecting individuals with the support services they need takes time - more than 72 hours. Once the FEMA funding runs out, Knoxville needs a long term plan. I will continue to raise these concerns and push new ideas until we have a plan in place that ensures the dignity of those experiencing homelessness while also ensuring the health and safety of our city as a whole."

fischbobber's picture

Amelia

She’s right. Her agenda item should have been put on the table and discussed.

I believe Indya Kincanon made the correct decision last fall to disperse the tent camp at Blackstock.

It is no longer last fall.

It is more than appropriate to discuss the future.

There is a strong possibility homelessness will be our next surge, regardless of community desire. It is better to be prepared, than not.

This is a community issue that should be addressed, not swept under the rug.

barker's picture

Zoning

I don’t know what exactly Councilwoman Parker had in mind (she didn’t respond to my request for more information), but my sense is the proposal was doomed from the start. Some cities have zoning provisions that allow for encampments and a few have been passed as temporary measures during the pandemic, but the ones I’ve seen (just a couple, since Parker’s measure failed and I have no reason to do a deep dive) call for highly regulated campgrounds managed by social services agencies. Not unlike the existing shelters. The Blackstock encampment would not be allowed in those cities, either.

As a practical matter, neighborhoods and commercial districts would revolt against an encampment in their midst. Just consider the fury that historically has greeted permanent supportive housing developments, which are in reality just apartment complexes. If anybody thinks that was bad, imagine the response to a proposal for a temporary encampment.

I’m not saying a zoning approach doesn’t have merits. As I noted above, Councilwoman Parker has not to my knowledge disclosed what she had in mind so I can’t assess how it could have worked. But my experience reporting on government in general and homelessness in particular tells me that it would have been more complex than just letting people camp wherever they want within a zone and more controversial than Minvilla or Flenniken Landing.

Treehouse's picture

What part of this did you not see?

"...Councilwoman Parker has not to my knowledge disclosed what she had in mind ..."

Councilwoman Amelia Parker
20h ·
This morning, I joined a letter sent by the National Homelessness Law Center and ACLU of Tennessee, and signed by multiple community groups, calling on our city government to stop the sweeps of homeless camps and instead use federal dollars to put those experiencing homelessness into hotel rooms for the duration of the pandemic. I have consistently made this request of the administration since last year with no success. Since then, we have lost multiple members of our houseless community to preventable deaths. On Monday night, a hit and run victim on Broadway who is believed to have been homeless was killed while crossing the street in the middle of the night.
I was disappointed that none of my colleagues on council granted me a second on my resolution regarding encampments so that we could engage in a very important and urgent discussion regarding our plan for transitioning individuals from the streets to housing. We all share the goal of a Knoxville with no encampments. However, the process of building trust and connecting individuals with the support services they need takes time - more than 72 hours. Once the FEMA funding runs out, Knoxville needs a long term plan. I will continue to raise these concerns and push new ideas until we have a plan in place that ensures the dignity of those experiencing homelessness while also ensuring the health and safety of our city as a whole.
Knoxville is full of people who care and believe our city is better than the current treatment we see the unhoused receiving in this city. I absolutely agree and believe we can do better.
Please contact the mayor’s office and express your support for Knoxville using FEMA reimbursement dollars to provide housing for those experiencing homelessness. More details and contact information is included in the letter below.
(link...)
#HousingNotHandcuffs #HotelsNotHospitalBedsCouncilwoman Amelia Parker

barker's picture

The part where she explains

The part where she explains how she'd like to see a zoning change applied. There's not one word about it.

fischbobber's picture

Teaberry

I remember the Ten Year Plan debacle and triumph well. What I learned is that bribery, and by that I mean general improvements that otherwise would not have happened, is the key to advancing projects for the homeless. In the case we are talking about now, there will be issues that will require, not only creative solutions, but finding people within the community willing to take chances and risk joining in an experiment, because have no doubt, we are not talking about permanent solutions here, but rather a temporary fix while we build a staff qualified and able to work with our homeless population.

Take the malfunction junction/ Blackstock area. At the risk of sounding like I’m talking about a livestock house, we need a place to interact, inventory and evaluate the needs of our homeless. We could also use a place where we can allow overnight/ weekend parking / tailgating for downtown festivals in order to help our downtown business owners survive. With toilet, bathing, and garbage pick-up this space could serve both needs. In addition, parking/camping revenues as well as some taxes generated and possibly a portion of ticket sales could go to staffing the people we will need to help solve this problem. Now, I’m not advocating this as a be all end all solution, but I am advocating opening up a dialogue whereby ideas get put on the table that are morally acceptable while benefiting the community at large. This will likely call for group think and buy in from neighborhood partners. There has to be a give and take for this to work.

This is not going to be an easy problem to solve. It won’t ever be easy, the issue is whether we are going to make it impossible.

michael kaplan's picture

National Homelessness Law Center

michael kaplan's picture

Setting up safe and sanitary

Setting up safe and sanitary designated camping areas is not rocket science. Bonnaroo (and other music festivals) do it on a regular basis. The military does it. Maybe the city should contract this job out to Bonnaroo organizers. The homeless population is, admittedly, not the music festival population, but surely the expertise exists to design and maintain camping areas, with social services provided to the mentally and physically disabled.

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