BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – Non-profits serving Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia are seeing new faces in their shelters and a higher volume of calls for housing from people experiencing homelessness. The organizations are concerned, saying homelessness was already an issue.
Brian Plank, executive director of Haven of Rest Rescue Mission, said there’s an increasing number of people attending their evening dinners including the street homeless, people who are asset-limited, income constrained and employed (ALICE), seniors, and people with disabilities.
“But, it’s a very complex issue,” said Plank. “And I don’t think it’s being handled in a way that actually addresses the problem. I think it’s just basically trying to cover over the problem.”
Plank is referencing laws passed by the State of Tennessee and the City of Bristol, Virginia. One of the laws makes it illegal to camp on public property.
“[The charge is] still the tyrannosaurus in the room, because it could happen,” said Plank. “So a lot of folks are afraid of that. So a lot of [homeless people] have since migrated to the Virginia side because of what Tennessee did…If you’re choosing between a felony or a misdemeanor, I’m going to go for a misdemeanor.”
Executive director of United Way of Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia Lisa Cofer said on average, they receive 400-450 calls a month. In August, the organization had 523 calls. 29 percent of those calls were from people who were unsheltered and needed resources.
Cofer said they receive calls from homeless families, often living in tents or in their cars, and there are no shelters to meet their needs in either Bristol.
“It just leaves us with very little options and that’s why as a community, we have to come together and all of us have to figure out what we can do to assist these individuals and these families as quickly as as we can and provide those resources,” said Cofer.
A solution Plank offered to the issue would be providing more facilities that help people experiencing homelessness work towards a better way of life, with focuses on mental health and drug rehabilitation.
Bristol, Virginia Mayor Neal Osborne told News Channel 11 Wednesday that the city is fortunate to have so many organizations that want to help, but he wants it to be more organized and hopes the other council members will be on board.
“My goal is to have all these organizations working together so we’re not duplicating services,” said Osborne. “I think that would make it a lot smoother and a lot better.”