Johnson City, TN

Opinion: A Homeless Focus Using Public Input Provides Better Results

John M. Dabbs
Homelessness in the Tri-CitiesJon Tyson/Unsplash

My hats off to the Johnson City Press for their coverage of the homeless population and the ongoing struggle they face. The latest article, How to help the homeless shows an understanding by readers. I'm not sure city officials could agree on how to bring many of these issues to fruition, but there are good ideas.

Consolidated homeless service

I particularly like the idea of repurposing an old school, or other public building, into a homeless shelter. To me this could serve multiple purposes, with a cafeteria being refurbished to serve food once more, rooms to establish sleeping quarters, and bathrooms which could be renovated to also provide showers.

Many of the rooms could be used for adminstrative offices - these could be used as satellite offices for the community agencies providing services now, and in the future. I'm thinking the city could also use a space near an entrance to locate a community policing station, with an officer based out of here to help keep the peace and protect the residents.

Transportation could easily be helped with the location of a bus stop in front of the building. City officials may be able to try a limited route in the evening and Sundays to determine the feasibility of offering such services during off-peak hours.

Working together

It would be more work for the support agencies to operate from a satellite location in lieu of their current operation, yet it could serve multiple purposes - and provide better security for the population it serves. A building such as a school could offer benefits for all, but it would take serious rehabilitation of a facility to make it work best.

Such a solution would provide a central location for mental health services and medical services to set up shop on a routine basis for the people. Should the facility have adequate land and green-space with it, it could be a place for those who can't shelter indoors, to set up camp and have access to bathroom and other facilities. Allocating designated spaces to maximize the area would most likely be needed at some point.

I'm sure public works or other donors could find suitable sitting furniture, such as benches for the outside areas. Perhaps a large awning or pavillion area could also be established so people can rest out of the sun, or inclement weather when they don't want to be inside - or can't be for some reason.


The above scenario is undoubtedly a pipedream, but one that may be feasible and more cost effective than other solutions. The availability of time, money, and location are real factors. The desire and effort required to work together is more difficult.

Who knows, maybe the American Red Cross would be able to help staff the shelter at times with volunteers undergoing shelter training, if even on a temporary basis. Our imagination is our only limitation. Stakeholders will come together and try if we can find someone willing to lead the effort to change. Simply forcing these residents from parks and benches doesn't help the situation in the long run.


Listening to people who've been homeless, and those who are and staying in shelters or camps, I've learned a few things. The most striking thing I learned was they lack a way to carry their belongings. We often see the stereotypes of TV or in the movies, with a trash bag or shopping cart. Cart theft can be an issue, and bags don't hold up that well.

Perhaps in addition to providing socks, underwear, and toiletries, we should look through our closets, storage buildings. They could use some rolling luggage. Suitcases with telescoping handles and wheels could really benefit someone who has to carry their few belongings from place to place. It may also help them fit in, and feel as if they merely look like a traveler on their way to the bus station. These items can help them with not only security and a secure means of transporting their things - it can give them a little bit of self-pride. Would we want to have to carry our belongings around in a cardboard box or garbage bag?

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

Bristol, TN

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