Kingsport has long been known as a kind and compassionate community. Many community organizations care for the homeless in our community with 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.

With support of many community donors, the United Way of Greater Kingsport (UWGK) has long supported homeless-serving organizations, from nationally-recognized Salvation Army and Family Promise (formerly Interfaith Hospitality Network) to Frontier Health’s domestic violence shelter, Safe House, to more recently adding Hope Haven, a local homeless shelter for both men and women, as a member agency. These four agencies have a bed-capacity 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 valuable food assistance services, including the Friendship Diner, Kitchen of Hope, Hunger First, Shades of Grace, and nearly 30 other organizations (feedkingsport.org).

Over the past several years, the number of individuals 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. During the summer of 2019, Kingsport City officials received an increasing number of safety-related complaints from downtown businesses and neighborhood citizens. After hearing and investigating these reports, Kingsport City acted with a proactive approach: In the fall, Kingsport City Manager Chris McCartt, and Kingsport Police Chief David Quillin met with the United Way of Greater Kingsport board members to envision a long-term strategy for addressing homelessness in Kingsport. Initial steps forward included:

  1. Survey the existing agencies that provide services.
  2. Form a Homeless Coalition composed of a cross-sector of community members, community leaders and non-profit organization leaders to identify gaps.
  3. Develop a comprehensive action plan.

Both UWGK and the City of Kingsport share a common vision of a safe and compassionate community that offers a well-resourced path to self-sufficiency for individuals experiencing homelessness. To further this vision, the City of Kingsport, in partnership with the United Way of Greater Kingsport, created the Homeless Services Liaison position to oversee the strategic work of “coordinated entry” improvement. In addition, the City has hired a social worker to work full-time with the Kingsport Police Department who will be working with the homeless population to help get them better access to community resources designed to help them. This position would also engage with community partners in the coordination of these services. Both positions were posted in November and subsequently filled.

Jonathan Anderson is the newly appointed UWGK Homeless Services Liaison. With 13 years of experience in the faith-based and nonprofit communities, Anderson is the founder of Engage Tri-Cities and has worked with local organizations in both Kingsport and North Carolina.

The Kingsport Police Homeless Outreach Worker is now Erin Gray. A lifelong Tri-Cities native, Gray is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) with over 10 years of experience through the Department of Children’s Services and Camelot.

Individuals interested in supporting these efforts can volunteer for the upcoming Point-in-Time Count (PIT) taking place on January 22-23rd. For information on how to participate visit www.volunteer-united.org.