Preventing homelessness is the next goal for the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness, a Johnson City-based nonprofit organization.
ARCH serves eight counties in northeast Tennessee – Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington. The organization has focused on finding housing for homeless people in the past, but Outreach Director said the organization hopes to fuel focus toward homeless prevention.
ARCH began in 2003 as a way to connect people who are homeless to other regional organizations, keeping a set goal of putting those who are homeless in homes.
Murray said ARCH helps people however they can – whether it’s finding an apartment or just giving them a ride.
ARCH differs from other nonprofits in that the outreach team visit homeless people at their campsites and offer help.
“Our goal is to get people housed,” Murray said. “We do it by working with every other agency out there.”
Jay Schafer serves on the organization’s board of directors, but a few years ago he was homeless and came to ARCH for help.
All in all, Schafer estimates he spent the better part of a decade homeless. His parents kicked him out when he was 17. He joined the National Guard after that, but found himself back on the streets after he served.
If adjusting to civilian life wasn’t hard enough, Schafer lost both copies of his birth certificate while he was in the military. Since he was born in Italy, he was unable to get another copy, which meant he couldn’t get any other forms of I.D. he needed to get a job.
He was stuck.
“I’d been through five or six homeless shelters, and they all said, ‘Oh this is a piece of cake, we’ll do this right now,'” he said. “When they started scratching a little bit deeper, there was nothing they could do.
“When you have nothing, you’re not even going to get a job.”
He spent several years in and out of different homeless shelters across the country from Alaska to Tennessee, but he said he never found the help he really needed – just a meal, a shower and a place to sleep.
“It leaves a lot of people in a cycle,” Schafer said. “People, they don’t just need a place to sleep when they’re homeless, you’re getting them by just day by day. They need more than that, otherwise, they’re going to stay homeless.”
He found his way to ARCH, and caseworkers were able to get a copy of his Italian birth certificate after a few months. He said the process cost more than $1,000 to start, something he said he couldn’t have done without the nonprofit’s help.
“How does someone that’s homeless, how do you grab $1,000 to pay for something, to just get a process started?”
Finding the funds
Helping the homeless remains the main goal of ARCH, but Murray said officials are looking at keeping people from being on the streets in the first place.
That program focuses on those who are at-risk of becoming homeless.
“These would be people that are delinquent on their rent, the working poor who are about to be evicted or about to end up on the street,” Murray explained. “It might be a mother with children who’s about to lose her home and end up homeless.”
Murray said ARCH is mostly funded through federal Housing and Urban Development grants and very little community donations. He said the grants have strict stipulations to how they are spent, and none of it can go toward the organization’s homeless prevention efforts.
To fuel their homeless prevention efforts, ARCH is turning to the community to help. He said ARCH has a donation link at their website, appalachianhomeless.org.
“If we had the little bit of monies that we could use to help those people stay housed, it’s far cheaper to do that than it is to let them become homeless,” he said, elaborating, “It cost two or three thousand dollars to get them back in an apartment, if you can get them back in an apartment.”
Homeless prevention, Murray said, includes helping clients pay for rent or bills – anything that will keep them in their home.
ARCH is focused on long-term prevention overall, but Murray said they help with day-to-day issues, too.
“We have done things like taken people to Knoxville to have a dental appointment,” Murray said. “We do whatever it takes to make a life a little bit easier and a little bit more comfortable.”
Learn more at appalachianhomeless.org and follow ARCH on Facebook and Instagram.