Overall homelessness in Knox County is up 16 percent (compared to a national decrease of about 4 percent) since 2012, but the number of homeless veterans in Knox County has decreased almost 10 percent since the last homelessness study was done here in 2012. That's according to the new biennial homelessness survey and report done by the Knoxville-Knox County Homeless Coalition and the Knoxville Homeless Management Information System.
The report was released this morning and presented to Mayor Madeline Rogero (County Mayor Tim Burchett couldn't make it to the presentation) in front of about 100 people at the Knox County Community Action Committee building on Western Avenue. Roger Nooe, a retired social work professor at UT and the director of social services at the Community Law Office, and Dr. David Patterson, a social work professor at UT and the director of KnoxHMIS, were both on hand to highlight a few numbers that stood out to them.
About a third of the 9,806 people who sought services in Knox County last year (and whose information was entered into the KnoxHMIS) are currently in stable housing and receiving services, or at risk for homelessness and receiving services, Patterson said. He also pointed out that 68 percent of survey respondents gave a Knox County zip code as their last permanent residence, once again de-bunking that oft-repeated myth that the homeless in Knoxville are being shipped here from out of state.
"The homeless in this community are our homeless," Patterson said.
Nooe, who's been coordinating these surveys for nearly 30 years, pointed out that about two-thirds of 236 people surveyed this winter reported having had treatment for mental illness, and more than a third had been victims of crime while homeless.
"Homelessness is a very dangerous state of being. There are predators out there who capitalize on the homeless, and I think we need to address that problem as a community," he said.
Rogero spoke briefly, and said she was grateful to have these reports because "If you don't know where you are, you don't know where your're going to go." She mentioned that the Knoxville City Council had recently adopted the homelessness plan developed by the Mayor's Roundtable on Homelessness, and that several aspects of the plan addressed the issues discussed in the report. She also reiterated that homelessness in Knoxville can't be fixed overnight, and that everyone in the community will have to pitch in to help solve the problem.
"It's something we really have to be committed to for the long term," she said.
Later the mayor said the info in the report (which she hasn't read from cover to cover just yet) reaffirms the need for the city's new homelessness plan, but said she hopes its release reignites the community's commitment to the cause. Will Rogero's upcoming city budget include homelessness-specific funding? "Stay tuned," she said.
City director of the office on homelessness Michael Dunthorn (who, along with Nooe and Patterson, was one of the interviewers for the survey) said the report is a good tool to gauge what progress is being made, and where improvements are most needed. He also added that his office will start focusing its attention on homeless veterans, since the federal government has made them a high priority.