The Compassion Knoxville exercise that the community went through the past six months was well thought-out and executed. It was citizen/community based and provided community recommendations based on responses to two questions:
1.) Homelessness is an issue that impacts our community. What do you recommend we do about it?
2.) What are the major concerns you have about dealing with homelessness?
The process engaged broad-community participation with more than 1,800 comments from a approximately 500 citizens. The community was “the expert”.
I feel that the recommendations which emanated from this process well reflect our community’s response to homelessness. It appears we are indeed compassionate, but that we expect more openness and responsibility from service providers. We also expect the homeless to accept more responsibility as they access services to act more as participants rather than just recipients of food, clothing, services, etc. We ask for more case management to help stabilize and work toward reintegration into mainstream society. We want to provide for homeless prevention, esp. regarding families (which seem to be on the rise).
We want to help provide job training and reintegration and to coordinate all services.
We want to provide housing where appropriate with affordable and accessible housing options with attention to cost-control, location and COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT in the siting process. Realistically I don’t see any new construction in the near future. Rather we are utilizing existing apartments and some single-family dwellings. There is already a large stock of housing and empty commercial structures available, and funding should come from the private section to the extent possible.
The community should be involved and should be educated and have a voice in all aspects of dealing with homelessness as we move forward. We must have the involvement and support of the political leadership, business community, and a fully engaged faith-based community, and over-all community involvement.
We need to deal with the mental health and substance abuse issues and prevent institutions, mental health hospitals, jails, and foster care from discharging individuals to the street through discharge-planning that links individuals to the appropriate community services.
Finally this is all contingent on developing adequate funding. The community must step up and commit funding to ensure that the private sector becomes fully engaged.
Perhaps this effort could be coordinated by the Homeless Coalition - a consortium of the service providers - with the support of the political leadership, business leadership, the faith-based community, and the community at large.
The recommendations presented by the Compassion Knoxville process provide a basis for community discussion, plans, and action.