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Homeless issues persist

Fact or fiction: creating certain kinds of services will attract homeless people from other communities.

“It’s probably bad for me to say this, but I feel we are attracting homeless people,” said local contractor Jewell Hale. “I spoke to this one guy and asked, ‘Where are you from, anyway?’ He said they were sent down here from Cookeville. I said, ‘Really?’ That’s the extent of the conversation I had with him. I had been told that these other towns are seeing that we’re doing so much for homeless that we’re attracting other town’s homeless to McMinnville.”

Those concerns were relayed to members of the McMinnville Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Tuesday night.

Hale conveyed a situation in which he left his office on Sparta Highway for approximately 30 minutes and returned to find five homeless individuals, with their items, waiting on his doorstep.

“I didn’t know who they were, so I asked what was going on,” said Hale. “This guy said he knocked on the door and someone said it was OK for them to wait here a little while for someone to come pick us up. About an hour later, I went to the funeral home to pay my respects. I came back and they’re still there.”

Feeling that their presence might be a deterrent to business patrons, Hale called for a city officer to ask the individuals to relocate.

“I don’t know what the answer to this is,” said Hale. “The policeman asked them to leave and they went about 50 foot. They left my front porch and moved to the side of the highway like the guy who stayed beside Korner Market. It’s really sad. There were two women and three grown men.” In 2020, a homeless count was conducted by Families in Crisis. According to FIC director Kristy Stubblefield, 12 individuals within its shelter and 15 unsheltered individuals were located for a total of 27. The men’s homeless shelter was contacted for its number, but that information was not received.

In 2022, a homeless count wasconductedbyHomeless of McMinnville Effort (HOME). According to HOME director Sheila Fann, it located 86 individuals. That number did include the men’s shelter, but did not include Families in Crisis shelter.

“I think the men’s shelter reported two individuals,” said Fann. “It wasn’t many. I think it was two. Families in Crisis had 10, but that number wasn’t included in the 86. I think Families in Crisis shelter had 10, so that would bring the total to 96.”

Counting the homeless population is extremely difficult because of the mobility of that population. Point in time surveys are conducted annually and are usually undertaken by volunteers in one single day.

HOME was contacted about the five individuals the day of the Hale incident and the local organization paid to transport them back to Cookeville.

“Homelessness is a global problem,” said Fann. “It is a national problem. Why would we think we are exempt from that? To receive assistance from Prosperity Point, they have to have lived here for 12 months. We just paid to get a woman back to Missouri. We paid to get those people back to Cookeville. We don’t have the resources to assist all the homeless of Warren County, much less the homeless from other communities.”

While Fann addressed the belief that community services attract homeless from other communities, Hale did not mention HOME or Prosperity Point in his address to city officials.

“Our volunteers and our leaders work diligently one on one with our homeless community to find their best solution,” said Fann. “Can we help everyone? Of course not. We are in no way increasing our homeless population. We aren’t bringing in the problem. We are bringing awareness to the problem. We have a lot of support in Warren County. However, there are those who believe that HOME’s existence will bring homeless people. That is the furthest thing from the truth.”

HOME is in the process of constructing Prosperity Point, a community of tiny homes that will be used to house homeless individuals as they transition to permanent housing.