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UT Study: 60% of Knoxville homeless population could not afford homes; 20% suffers from mental illness and substance abuse issues

Failure to find affordable housing, eviction, loss of job, mental illness, and substance abuse make up for 80% of the homeless population in the Knoxville area.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A recent study shows 60% of the hundreds of homeless in Knoxville and the surrounding county had issues affording their rent or mortgage.

The study conducted by the University of Tennessee College of Social Work Office of Research and Public Service shows 31% of the homeless population could not find affordable housing for themselves or their families, 16% were evicted, and 10% lost their jobs.

Credit: WBIR
Causes of homelessness in Knoxville, according to Knox HIMS

If people are not staying with friends, extended family, or at a shelter at any of the non-profits in downtown Knoxville, they are staying in tents under bridges, in the streets, or in the woods.

Burt Rosen, the chief executive officer at Knox Area Rescue Ministries, said they have the resources to help people get back on track, but many people do not come.

“Here it KARM… we've got over 200 beds for men, and over 100 beds for women,” Rosen said. “When we see the weather fluctuations, we see those numbers ebb and flow, but once a person has come inside, we've got programs to address just about every single need they might have, from helping them get into housing to helping someone obtain a job.”

The UT study also shows another 20% of the homeless population suffer from mental illness and substance abuse issues.

Credit: WBIR
Causes of homelessness in Knoxville, according to Knox HIMS.

Broadway Street by the Salvation Army and under the I-40 bridge off Cooper Street are popular areas for the homeless population to stay.

Rosen said a small fraction of the people in these areas are predators, selling opioids and other drugs.

“I watched two people shoot upright in front of me, they looked at me, they knew that I saw them putting the needle in their arm,” Rosen said. “It was as if I wasn't even there.”

Rosen said he had a background of drug use in the 1960s and remembers doing so in private places, but it’s polar opposite within Knoxville’s homeless population.

“I know what it was like to want to hide from people because you were scared of getting caught, but there's no fear of getting caught out there right now,” he added. “There's no fear of consequences for any of the behavior.”

KARM also has the resources to help people fight drug addiction, but again many do not seek out help, according to Rosen.

Other issues affecting the homeless population include heads of households fleeing domestic violence, underemployment/ low income, and non-violent family confrontation.

All issues can be viewed below:

Credit: Knox HIMS
Primary causes of homelessness, according to Knox HIMS.

The CEO added that doing outreach in heavily populated areas like Cooper Street and Broadway Street downtown is unpredictable and dangerous.

Rosen is asking local lawmakers, the City of Knoxville, and law enforcement to come together for a solution.

10News reached out to the City of Knoxville for comment but has yet to receive anything back.

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