(WJHL) — Newly released numbers from the federal government suggest homelessness is increasing in some parts of Northeast Tennessee.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently published key findings from the Point-In-Time Count and Housing Inventory Count (HIC) conducted in January 2019. These estimates are conducted annually during a 24-hour period to provide a snapshot of the problem and guide resource allocation.
A breakdown of the Appalachian Regional Continuum of Care (CoC) obtained by News Channel 11 showed four of nine localities topped their 2018 PIT counts in 2019, including Kingsport, Bristol, Carter County and Unicoi County.
Kingsport had the highest number of homeless individuals in 2019 at 134, increasing its 2018 total by 22 and topping the next closest city by 33.
Carter County had the largest increase from 2018 at 37. Anne Cooper, the executive director of the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness, said the recent opening of a shelter there likely made a long-standing problem more visible.
There were 405 total homeless people counted in Northeast Tennessee in 2019, up from 360 in 2018.
“The increase has actually been in the unsheltered population. That means that they have not been in emergency shelters but they’re actually on the street,” Cooper said.
In 2019, 149 people were documented as “unsheltered” during the PIT. That’s about 38% of the total homeless population that year.
Cooper said many of these people are falling through the cracks. “In order to qualify for permanent supportive housing which is the majority of the funding that we have in this continuum of care you have to be considered chronically homeless,” she said. “You’d be surprised that that’s very difficult for people to qualify for.”
To meet HUD’s criteria, Cooper said a person has to be homeless for 12 months straight or for four episodes over a three-year period with a documented disability.
Only about 13% of total homeless people counted in 2019 met these criteria.
After reviewing these numbers, Cooper said ARCH shifted its funding requests in September to cover more rapid re-housing, a resource with less rigorous standards that the organization currently has “a severe lack of.”
Numbers show homeless individuals, as opposed to families, have long made up the vast majority of the “unsheltered population.” Cooper said it’s a challenge to find landlords who will provide them housing without a credit check or a review of their criminal history.
Adding to the problem, between 2017 and 2019, the region lost 86 total year-round beds for the homeless. This metric includes emergency shelters, transitional housing and safe haven beds. There are no safe haven beds in the Tri-Cities, according to Cooper.
“We nonprofits, we get money, we lose money. It’s just the way that it is,” Cooper said. “So we have lost several transitional housing programs in the area and that’s why you’re seeing the fluctuation.”
For example, ARCH was forced to close a transitional home for veterans in Kingsport after a grant was pulled, leaving this group with 15 fewer beds.
Cooper said transitional housing is more expensive because it requires full-time staff to provide skills-training on site.
That’s why she said HUD is moving away from the model.
Cooper also said there’s a need for more family shelters.
With gaps remaining in regional resources, Cooper said she’s not expecting improvement for the 2020 PIT count.
“I don’t think we’ll see a decrease. I really don’t and I’m feeling quite certain that there will be an increase in Sullivan [County], she said.
Cooper said the PIT will take place from January 22nd to the 23rd this year.
She said ARCH is in desperate need of non-perishable food donations to give out that night.
You can view more localized numbers from 2018 and 2019 below.