Johnson City, TN

Does Emerging Migration Have an Impact? The plight of Being Homeless in Johnson City

John M. Dabbs

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North Portland Homeless Tent CampGraywalls/Wikipedia Commons

Migration

Has the migration from "Blue States" to "Red States" contributed to the problem in Tennessee? While this trend does factor into the increased home prices and costs of housing in the Johnson City area, New York and California are the states with the highest homeless population. Whether their policies have led to such a situation in combination with the exodus can also be surmised, there is no evidence to support these assumptions.

Move on

Johnson City officials have been working with stakeholders and community outreach agencies to develop a strategy to work with the homeless. Public Works crews have been removing homeless camps from the downtown area in an effort to move the homeless who are disrupting business and tourism from the downtown area.

While most homeless people are not causing problems with area businesses and tourism, there are a few. The majority of these are chronically homeless people, with a history of substance abuse or mental illness. They are often confrontational people who present as argumentative when their "space" is encroached upon.

Outreach programs from the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness (ARCH), the Salvation Army, Munsey United Methodist Church, and others are working with city officials to find a longer-term solution that could help the transitional and episodic homeless in the city. There are continued outreach efforts to assist the chronically homeless as well - though their situation is often more complicated.

High homeless family rates

According to the 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), Tennessee has seen a decrease in its homeless population in recent years. At a statewide estimate of 5,673 for 2020, this is a 33% decrease from 2007 and a 2.8% decrease from 2019. Even with such trends, Tennessee has the third-highest rate of homeless families with children (29.8%), with 1,583 homeless children across the state. 471 of these children are unsheltered (not in a homeless shelter). Unaccompanied homeless youth (not with a family) are estimated to be 353 in the state.

Locally

Washington County's homeless were estimated at 85 in 2019, down from 103 in 2018. We are unable to discern the impact COVID-19 has had on homeless numbers in the Washington County-Johnson City area at present. Hopefully, we will learn more in the coming months.

About the homeless

Many people are unaware of the actual homeless community, their reasons for being homeless, and why they just don't get a job. The types of homeless people are varied, as are the reasons for their situation. Here is some information from National Homeless:

Housing
A lack of affordable housing and the availability of housing with government assistance is often an issue. The limited housing assistance programs have failed to keep up with population needs. Recent foreclosures have increased the problem.

Poverty
Homelessness and poverty go hand-in-hand. The poor are often unable to pay for food, housing, healthcare, childcare, or education. Their choices are severely limited when they must choose where to spend their limited funds, and they often make difficult choices. Housing absorbs a major portion of income, and they can afford more of the other necessities if they drop that expense. The poor are often living paycheck-to-paycheck. One catastrophic event (whether illness or accident) can leave a family homeless.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the 2017 Housing Wage is $21.21 per hour, exceeding the $16.38 hourly wage earned by the average renter by almost $5.00 an hour, and greatly exceeding wages earned by low-income renting households. In fact, the hourly wage needed for renters hoping to afford a two-bedroom rental home is $13.96 higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25.

Types of homeless

There are three types of homelessness – chronic, transitional, and episodic can be defined:

Chronic Homelessness

These people are often stereotyped as "skid-row" homeless. They are often embedded in the local shelter system and use these like long-term housing instead of an "emergency shelter" as they are intended. Typically, the Chronically Homeless are older, suffer from disabilities or substance abuse, and often refuse to look for employment. This group typically comprises the smallest portion of the homeless in a community.

Transitional Homelessness

The Transitional Homeless are often the group best helped by the shelter and support system in many communities. They normally enter the shelter system for only one short stay. Often they are younger, recently part of a precariously housed population, and have recently become homeless due to a catastrophic event. They are often forced to spend a short time in a homeless shelter until they are able to transition into more stable housing. Transitional homeless often account for the majority of homeless people, and the group has a higher turnover.

Episodic Homelessness

The Episodic Homeless are the repeat group. They transition in and out of homelessness frequently. This demographic is usually like, but unlike the transitional homeless they are often chronically unemployed and experience medical, mental, and substance abuse problems.

With Mountain Home Veterans Administration within the confines of Johnson City, there are some veterans within the homeless population of the area. Many of these are migratory, making their way back to their home areas eventually. The 2020 AHAR report estimates 570 homeless veterans in Tennessee.

The Chronically Homeless number 1,092 across Tennessee. 2,784 of these are unsheltered. This means just over 38% are not living within a homeless shelter in Tennessee. 4,472 (61.6%) are staying with Tennessee shelters. Tennessee's homeless rate is 10.6 out of every 10,000 people.

The Haven of Mercy, Salvation Army, and other local support organizations continue to work with local churches and other groups, such as ARCH to help the homeless and provide services to help them in their situation in the area.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

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