KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A roundtable group led by Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon met Monday night to discuss ways they could prevent homelessness and help unhoused people find a sustainable living situation.
Much of the discussion focused on youth homelessness, and they discussed plans to apply for a large federal grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It's called the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Grant and it will be the third time Knoxville applied for it.
Between $1 million and $1.15 million could be awarded to help facilitate a plan to prevent homelessness among people between 18 and 24 years old. City leaders are also working with the Youth Action Board to create a plan to secure a homeless shelter for young unhoused people.
The board is made up of youth who have experienced homelessness and they said there are several safety issues for youth at shelters. Other people staying at shelters may threaten younger people also staying there. The board also said it wants space to offer resources for specific needs.
If they are awarded the grant, they said the money will go towards supporting the shelter. Applications are due at the end of June and they said they expect an answer a few months after the deadline.
The board meets biweekly, and its next meeting will be at the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee on Western Avenue on May 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Officials at the meeting also said city leaders and the Knoxville Police Department are planning to break up encampments, similar to their efforts in the Blackstock area. They said they will break up encampments on Magnolia and Broadway, up to the intersection near Bernard Road and Cooper Road.
While crews previously cleared the Blackstock area, several unhoused people sat scattered along the sidewalks with their belongings in roll carts while crews swept through the area, tearing down tents.
They said signs would be posted on Wednesday with finalized details about their plans. Unhoused people living in the area would have 72 hours to leave, they said. They also said social workers would be available to help unhoused people in the area.
Officials said they planned to start later this week, or early next week. During the roundtable, they specified that people would not face felony charges for sleeping outside while crews cleared encampments after state lawmakers passed a bill in the House and Senate that effectively criminalized homelessness.
According to data from 2021, more than 1,500 people were unhoused in Knoxville. That data showed around 60% of them simply could not find affordable housing, and around 20% suffered some kind of mental health or substance abuse issues.
Editor's Note: This story has been edited to reflect the next board meeting's correct location on May 12.