Application denied for new Kingsport homeless shelter after neighbors express concerns

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- For over a year, the Kingsport Homeless Ministry hoped to create a resource center for homeless individuals, along with a day and night shelter at 921 Broad Street. At Thursday’s meeting for the Board of Zoning Appeals, their application was unanimously denied with a 5-0 vote. Pushback from residents living near the address was one reason for the rejection.

Bobby Flowers, the Kingsport Homeless Ministry’s board president, said the city and fire department had already inspected the Broad Street building.

“They gave us some changes we needed to make, which weren’t very bad. We were good to go on those changes,” said Flowers.

921 Broad St.

Funding for the shelter would have come through grants and private donations.

“We’d have had this building paid off in two months,” said Flowers.

Members of the Kingsport Homeless Ministry presented their proposal in front of the BZA on Thursday. Ken Weems, Kingsport’s planning manager and zoning administrator, said the board asked the Ministry questions about the program and activities of the center – and some of their answers were too vague. The BZA also factored public input into their vote.

“There were several members of the public there that live close by that addressed a lot of concerns with the Board,” said Weems.

Reneé Bates lives just down the street from the location, and spoke out at Thursday’s meeting. She’s in favor of a shelter to help Kingsport’s homeless, but believes it should be in a non-residential area.

“This is a nice quiet neighborhood. We have children here, I have a granddaughter here. And so the safety aspect of things was our biggest concern,” Bates said.

Flowers believes the shelter would have addressed safety concerns. The application said the shelter would have had a 24-hour surveillance system, full-time security, and a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy.

The resource center would have been staffed with trained professionals, according to the application. This staff would link individuals to case managers to assist with mental health, drug rehabilitation, and health professionals. Daily spiritual counseling would also be offered at the shelter. There would be separate sleeping quarters for men and women, with no one allowed to leave the building after 10 p.m. each night.

The shelter would not have offered food, in order to avoid duplicating the services of other organizations like Kitchen of Hope and Shades of Grace downtown.

“Homeless people don’t have cars. They’re going to walk to wherever they need to be,” said Flowers. “[The shelter] needs to be somewhere close to all the other resources. Putting it outside of town or on Stone Drive – nobody’s going to come.”

Flowers also said the shelter would be low-barrier, in order to assist people who do not meet the requirements to stay at other shelters like the Salvation Army or Hope Haven.

He said the City of Kingsport has been largely supportive of the Ministry’s efforts, but it’s a matter of finding a location where nearby residents will be comfortable with the shelter.

“The city has to pay attention to its residents, and I understand that. But if we’re going to help with the situation, there’s got to be a place somewhere in this city that we can set up shop and do what we need to do,” said Flowers.

The Ministry isn’t giving up.

“I’ve already found another building I’m eyeing, so we’ll just keep going. We have to,” he said.

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