May 7 2012
06:43 am

The Knoxville News-Sentinel published a good story Sunday on the problems at Summit Towers in downtown Knoxville, "5 Summit Towers residents took their own lives last year." I noted the problems at Summit Towers back in December, 2011. It would appear the problems relate to mental illness and a lack of money. There is still no resolution for helping these people.

With the closing of the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute, will the problems just get worse? Lakeshore houses (housed) "50 "long-term" patients" and "2,400-plus admissions each year for much briefer periods of time." "At Lakeshore, more than a quarter of patients in 2010 returned to the hospital - more than 15 percent within 90 days."

According to media reports, "$22.4 million ($20.5 reallocated from Lakeshore's budget and the $1.9 million from a state pilot program to divert Lakeshore patients to other facilities)" "will be reinvested in community-based mental-health services" (private facilities). "It tentatively increases by 20-fold the money budgeted for the state's mental health "safety net" for fiscal year 2013 ($2.5 million, compared to $125,000 in 2012)."

It's hard to tell what exactly will happen to help the mentally ill locally. What we do know is there will be 50 long-term patients and 2,400 + short-term patients to deal with after June 30, 2012, in the private sector. This will be on top of the many that are not getting help locally, such as the residents of Summit Towers.

Bbeanster's picture

This was an outstanding story

This was an outstanding story about a terrible problem that most people don't want to think about. Doesn't fit into the "shrink government" scenario, or the "downtown is for beautiful people" scenario or any other scenario we want to contemplate.

fischbobber's picture

Oddly enough

The article brought to life many of the problems of the Ten Year Plan, specifically case management. I found it interesting that the spokesman for Lawler-Wood kept denying accountability, yet Summit Towers, as well as Westview Towers (I threw that in for you Toby to deal with the NIMBY thing up front) both fall under the same housing standards as Minvilla and Flenikan. Case management is as important for the folks in section eight housing as breakfast is for school children. We have to do better.

Somebody's picture

I would agree with you on the

I would agree with you on the critical importance of social workers or case managers to assist certain populations. Saying Summit Towers "fall under the same housing standards as Minvilla and Flenniken" is either incorrect or misleading, depending on what you mean by "housing standards." If you mean "qualifying for vouchers," that might be technically correct, but it's still misleading. I'm pretty sure the HUD voucher program does not require social workers to meet required "housing standards." The KNS story clearly indicates that Summit does not have onsite case management. The article relates circumstances where property managers try to do what they can, but they're not case managers. Minvilla and Flenniken, on the other hand, do have case managers onsite. That would seem to be a material difference that directly relates to the sort of challenges discussed in the story about Summit Towers. Perhaps if resources could be found to make Summit more like Minvilla and Flenniken -by bringing social workers onsite- it might make a difference. I don't know where those resources could easily be found, though. Any ideas?

fischbobber's picture

Section 8 and Homelessness

I will assume you were paying attention during the rather large homeless discussion we had last year.

Lawler-Wood , in the person of young Mister Lawler was a player in the entire homeless debate. He was a graduate of Webb at about the same time as our then Mayor was. Of the plethora of issues (both legitimate and non-legitimate), city infrastructure and case management were the two aspects of the homeless problem that stood out as being particularly lacking in my opinion, and they were brought to light and focused upon because of the plans upon the table. The problem with the scattered approach of dealing with homelessness is that case management is inefficient. The caseworkers can spend as much traveling as they do interacting with the formerly homeless. The plan our now governor sold the citizens should have provided caseworkers for all the potentially homeless, not just those in selected circumstances.

What Summit Towers has to offer in the form of section eight housing and what is reasonably needed to deal with the mentally ill and chronically homeless forms the crux of the legitimate debate about homelessness. Since John Lawler was the player he was in the discussion, I think it only fair that we examine how publicly funded projects under his management deal with the clientele they serve, and indeed, their target market.

My statement was only misleading to the uninformed and the only people that would take it as such are likely spin doctors with an agenda.

By the way, did you happen to notice this?


The problem with Haslam's whole approach to government is that he offers no real solutions, only payouts to his cronies. This is just one of a long list of examples. Examine his so-called education reform for his current effort to bleed public funding and tear down society.

sobi's picture


There's a key difference between Flenniken/Minvilla and The Two Towers. Funding for the former is contingent upon case management services being delivered onsite in ways that are detailed in contracts attached to significant funding. To my knowledge, the latter facilities were never encumbered by such obligations.

Even if Jon (sic) Lawler had attended Webb, he'd have been too young to have run with the Governor. But let's nevermind all that completly irrelevant yet bizarrely-included false information. Lawler's the product of a Blount County education.

fischbobber's picture


The problem is not funding but management of the funds. After watching the P.T.Barnham sideshow,(excuse me Jon Lawler) at Arnstein with Mayor Burchette to my immediate left and Sheriff Hutchinson to my immediate right (a situation so surreal that I didn't even begin to grasp the truly bizarre nature of what I experienced until just now), I must note that there is clearly a disconnect between the information presented at the ten year plan meetings and what you are presenting now.

Had funding for ongoing case management and a detailed plan for such as well as infrastructure improvement been part of the plans presented at Arnstein, much of the opposition would have turned to support. We can continue to argue about the past or we can look to the future, I don't give a damn.

The reason Teaberry was never going to work was because it was a shitty plan. It was a development in a hole with no reasonable way for the inmates to escape. There were no sidewalks, there were no bus stops, there were no jobs, there was no access to community or recreation and only limited access to actual human contact. The justification for the plan was the scattered plan for homelessness yet we had more supply of section 8 housing at the time than we did housing vouchers. In other words, what is going on at Summitt is absolutely relevant as to what we could have expected at Teaberry.

The reason I personally am pissed is because I took my young son down to the site fully expecting to support a plan for the homeless and when we got there and started looking around it quickly became clear that it wasn't going to work. When I got involved, it quickly became clear that no one really gave a damn if it worked as long as the money flowed. What was supposed to be a lesson in doing the right thing quickly turned into a lesson in situational ethics. If indeed Mr. Lawler is the upstanding individual you seem to be defending him as, I can only say that my experience on a personal level of governing with him and Mayor Haslam in regards to this project is that they are both, at best, slackers. And what pisses me off is that my initial instinct was to support them and had I not looked at the situation in an on-site detailed manner, that's likely what I would have done.

Had the Ten Year Plan been instituted as presented the Summit Towers and Westview as well as all approved section 8 properties would have been included.

So where is the plan? As I personally stated in person, face to face, off the record to a person deeply involved at the time, " If you're using the scattered approach, these folks are already here in pre-approved housing. If you're doing your job, we'll never know." The fact that people are jumping out of windows says that the plan needs ...uh...tweaking.

We still have more section 8 housing than we have vouchers. We don't have enough case management. Until we have an attitude change in local government, as well as folks like yourself, there is no impetus to change. I still get pissed off looking at the overgrown lot in the middle of Downtown West thinking about what could have happened if anyone had truly been committed to making the Teaberry project work.

Decide what you want to do. Clearly you have insight into how the interpersonal relationships involved in this transaction worked. I am glad that Minvilla and Flenniken are working. I hope they're models for redeveloping some of our local properties. But all politics is local and it don't get more local than neighborhoods and it doesn't get more personal than asking a parent to go against his child's best interest.

sobi's picture

We'll never know, will we?

Had funding for ongoing case management and a detailed plan for such as well as infrastructure improvement been part of the plans presented at Arnstein, much of the opposition would have turned to support.

We can speculate, but I suggest not.

First, such details would have been absurdly premature at that point in time. Which means they'd just have been bullshit.

Second, even if communication had been handled masterfully in this instance and others, it would certainly not have mollified opposition enough to win the embrace of the people who opposed the development at TB, let alone Flenniken and Minvilla. That's a parallel universe kind of thing, not a realistic hypothesis.

You're the one who likes to reflect on the past, so I'm happy to join you there, but right now, there is so little likelihood of anything major and constructive happening by way of new development or even placement of people in existing housing that it's kind of silly to talk about it. There's money out there for development and even to pay for case management, but vouchers, not so much.

Your insight-free conjecture about people's motives notwithstanding, I think TB had potential. You brought up some good issues about infrastructure back in the day, but those were all problems that could have been solved. My opinion is that there were other ways to skin the skunk of providing housing units for supportive housing besides new dev that could have made that money do more heavy lifting. But it don't make a damn what I think about that, and there are no vouchers available anyway to go along with that big fat dollop of no political will to tackle this problem. C'est la vie, I reckon. For now.

fischbobber's picture

Dead on correct

I'd have to say you are dead on correct about both the potential at TB as well as the vouchers.

If there is money for case management then it ought to be being used on those that need it now that are currently in the section 8 pipeline.

The political will in this community has always been tied to the money to be made. What is important at present is that what can be done should be done. If all there is the money to do is sort people out and identify what few can be helped within the bounds of the resources available, then that's what needs to be done. Summitt Towers and Westview should have case managers for those in need.

Finally, I would submit that modern opposition to plans such as this tends to be broad and diverse. See European elections and our local school budget. Education advocates are supporting the tax increase, not because they believe in the people asking for it or their plan, but because the money is desperately needed to bring our system up to national standards. It is not an indication of broad-based support for the way our system is being run. Likewise, when the homeless issue is tied to the communities being developed in a positive manner(i.e. parks, greenways, sidewalks and other standard forms of civic bribery and infrastructure) the nature of the opposition will be changed and coalitions will be formed. Key to this is a return to an attitude of responsibility toward our fellow man.

We may have to bottom out before folks wake up though.

bizgrrl's picture

You're correct, it would

You're correct, it would appear that Lawler and Haslam would have only attended Webb at the same time if Haslam was in high school and Lawler was in elementary/middle school.

Lawler's the product of a Blount County education.

Are you sure?

sobi's picture

Given that I never lie and I'm always right,...

Are you sure?

...of course I am.

bizgrrl's picture

WATE reports the closing of

WATE reports the closing of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute is already causing problems for the Knox County Sheriff's Office. KCSO is reporting an increase in trips to Chattanooga and Johnson City transporting "inmates with mental illness to secure facilities."

Knox County Commissioner Brad Anders says, "We knew that the closure was going to occur July 1st, but the admissions have ceased or really slowed down quite a bit, and there's not new contracts for Peninsula to take them or hospitals to hold them," Anders said. "So we're taking on the burden, and we've got to make sure that the state's aware of the burden."

Whereas, state officials say there are no plans to compensate the sheriff's office for transports now or in the future.

Then, going back to January, 2010, the Knoxville City Council was considering permanent supportive housing for the Lakeshore site. Is this how the all powerful made sure this would never happen? They just close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute?

Somebody's picture

The long, sad history of

The long, sad history of deinstitutionalization includes promises of community-based mental health services with each reduction in state-run facilities. Such is the case with the final closure of Lakeshore. With each previous instance, the promises were not kept, and local resources, ill-equipped to respond, were nonetheless left to fill the void.

Soon after, the public forgets about the great taxpayer savings that were offered as reason for the reductions in state-run services, but they become angry as other public resources are sought to respond to the resulting problems: mentally ill homeless people, prostitution, and other petty crimes on the streets and in our neighborhoods. They are sure these problems originate from somewhere else, and that the local responses to them are merely inviting the problem into our community. These problems don't come from somewhere else. They come from within, and they are our own doing.

Is this latest problem simply a hiccup as the state department of mental health works to put in place the community mental health services promised as Lakeshore closes? Perhaps. If history is any indicator, though, this is only a taste of what is to come. We will soon find out.

BoB W.'s picture

Eastern State

Does anyone have any recall of the events leading up to and afterwards when many years ago, what was known as the Eastern State Psychiatric Hospital at the intersection of Lyons View and Northshore closed it's doors and reportedly released many seriously ill patients?

fischbobber's picture


Federal funding was drastically cut under Reagan. I'm not sure if the name had changed at the time or not. What happened at that time was those who were previously free to roam the grounds and come back to their rooms were just turned loose. It is my understanding that, until this most recent closure, "dangerous" patients have still been accepted. Dangerous did not include those who might harm themselves or were unable to reasonably care for themselves, it was those that were deemed a threat to others. There was also a restricted access youth facility still on campus in the late nineties, though I'm not exactly sure what was going on there.

What has happened is what you see in the streets. Reference the various threads on homelessness and prostitution and addiction.

Why do you ask?

Edit: The term dangerous was probably a bad one to choose. I did not mean to imply that Lakeshore was an institution for the criminally insane, merely that the criteria for treatment had been restricted to those whose needs were quite a bit more dire than those generally served by Eastern State.

BoB W.'s picture


Just trying to piece together a timeline of facts. You have answered my questions quite well. Thanks for the info.

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