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Sevier County sees more people living in homelessness

According to census data, the number of people in homelessness in Sevier Co. is about the same as in Knox Co. However, it is a more rural area.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — Investigators say Joe Bates was homeless and living in Downtown Gatlinburg when he died in a fire that destroyed several businesses. According to the investigative report, he likely started a fire in a vacant suite in the back of the building to keep warm through the night.

While many folks say they don’t notice a large number of people experiencing homelessness in downtown Gatlinburg, outreach organizations say homeless people do live in the surrounding areas.

“We and other different agencies get together and we actually go out to find homeless individuals and then we count them as people who are actually found homeless,” said Brandon Harris, the Tennessee Valley Coalition for the Homeless Director.

He said there are 403 homeless people living in Sevier County as of Jan. 6. It’s far fewer than in Knox County – but factoring in the population of both counties, the number is about the same. In Sevier County, about 0.4% of the population is experiencing homelessness. In Knox County, about 0.42% of the population is homeless, based on the latest census information.

In this tourist town, community leaders said they do see what they call a “seasonal” homeless population.

“When people don’t have any income, that’s when most become homeless,” Harris said. “People pass through looking for work, find that work and once the job ends they’re stuck."

Advocates said homelessness isn’t just a problem in bigger cities, it’s a problem in more rural areas like Sevier County.

“There father away from resources, for example, people living in the downtown area who are homeless are in walking distance to food, pharmaceuticals, or medicine or whatever, hygiene products. People in the rural areas are farther from resources so they have to walk a greater distance,” Harris said. 

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