The lot under the Interstate 40 bridge on Broadway is on its way to being transformed into a day space for homeless people.
The city first cleaned up the Broadway site and plans to finish installing fencing by the end of the month, after a few weather-related delays slowed down workers. The city engineering department coordinated with contractors to pave and fence the area.
The city plans to contract with a security company to open the gate in the morning, maintain general order during the day, and close the area and lock the gate at night. Public Service crews will clean the space every night.
Mayor Madeline Rogero announced in September 2017 that the city would dedicate $500,000 to address the homeless community living in the area. They've used those funds on various things including a plan to create an improved day space.
Basic amenities for the day space are planned to include a paved area, which would replace the current gravel ground cover, as well as benches, picnic tables, new fencing, and portable toilets.
“The finished product will be a very basic but safe and clean space where unsheltered people can be during the day, along with social workers who are focusing on long-term solutions with these individuals,” said Michael Dunthorn, program coordinator for the City’s Office on Homelessness.
The city said that Knoxville Police officers and homelessness service providers, including Volunteer Ministry Center and Knox Area Rescue Ministries, began telling people who have regularly gathered off Broadway weeks ago that they would be displaced once the construction got underway.
“It’s not illegal to be homeless,” Mayor Rogero said. “But there are current safety and public health concerns that the City, Knoxville Police and service providers must address.”
Officers and service providers assisted those individuals in finding other places to stay, such as KARM’s shelter. KARM reported earlier in October that it was sheltering an increased number of people.
“There is space to accommodate people who want to sleep inside overnight,” Dunthorn said. “However, some people are resistant to those options for a variety of reasons. The City is working with service providers to assure availability of appropriate overnight shelter that will serve this portion of the unsheltered population.
The city has also used some of the funds set aside by Rogero to allow the Volunteer Ministry Center to hire two social workers who are reaching out directly to chronically homeless people who have been resistant to receiving services.
Dunthorn said some people living outside are not prepared to ask for help, even if that help is just across the street. The city hopes seeing social workers regularly could convince more people to seek out the resources offered by various groups in that area.
According to the city, another social worker with Helen Ross McNabb Center is focused on outreach to prostitutes, aiming to divert them from the streets by connecting them with social services and access to permanent housing.
A new multi-agency coordinated intake, assessment and referral system has been created to speed up referrals to housing and prioritize those individuals with the most urgent needs.
This is part of the city's plan to address homelessness, which aims to get people off the streets and into permanent housing. Dunthorn projects more than 500 units will open in the next couple years, but even with that progress, people will still be unsheltered and need a place to go.