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Advocates urge leaders to reopen community room in East Knoxville to prevent isolation and loneliness

For 5 years, Five Points had a community room where people could gather for bingo night or coffee. It closed because of COVID-19, and advocates want it back open.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Older adults face a unique challenge that other age groups may not face as much — isolation and loneliness. Advocates are urging city leaders to reopen a community room in East Knoxville, to prevent seniors from feeling isolated from others.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the community room in the Five Points area welcomed people for 5 years. There, older adults could enjoy bingo nights and bible studies. People could mingle and meet one another, connecting with the community around them.

Since the pandemic began, it has sat empty and closed. Now, advocates are urging leaders to find someone to staff it so it can welcome people back in.

"A lot of things can happen to people when they're left alone like that for seven or eight months," said Vivian Shipe, a community leader. "And a senior population has different kinds of needs."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around a quarter of adults over 65 years old are considered socially isolated. To prevent that, Shipe stepped in front of the city council and asked them to reopen the room.

She also said she wrote a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development urging them to help reopen the community room. She said she has not heard back and plans to bring the topic back up at the next city council meeting.

The Knoxville Community Development Corporation owns the two properties associated with the room. In a statement, they said the community room is closed because of COVID-19. They also said they are actively looking for someone to fill the position.

"They have bingo and several things I wasn't even a part of, but someone was in there doing something all the time," said Sylvia Cook, who has lived in the community for 15 years. "I hope things get back like they were."

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