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Updated January 8, 2018


The City of Knoxville commits almost $1 million a year toward efforts to deliver services to help individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness – or those at risk of becoming homeless. This investment leverages millions of additional dollars in direct services that are provided by nonprofit partners throughout our community.

The City’s Office on Homelessness, directed by Michael Dunthorn, is responsible for enhancing collaboration between service providers as Knoxville’s Plan to Address Homelessness is implemented. (Click on this link – http://bit.ly/KnoxHomelessnessPlan – to read the plan, which is centered on the principle that homelessness is an unacceptable circumstance for anyone in our community and focuses our community’s aspirations to prevent, reduce and end homelessness.)

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about what the City and its partners are doing to address homelessness in Knoxville.

When there is bitterly cold weather in Knoxville, what extra steps are taken to ensure that individuals experiencing homelessness have safe refuge?

Service providers implement a “white flag” cold-weather policy when temperatures drop below freezing. They unfurl a white flag to inform individuals experiencing homelessness that the policy is in place.

The white flag policy relaxes the rules for those who wish to come indoors and out of the elements.

During the recent cold weather affecting East Tennessee, Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) operated under its white flag policy. At KARM’s shelters, this allows anyone to come in, with the exception of a small number of people who have been charged with criminal trespassing, which usually reflects that they have previously been violent toward someone else at the shelter.

KARM has also partnered with several area churches on the “Room at the Inn” program, so that if KARM exceeds its overflow capacity, people can get to these partner churches for shelter. KARM has not exceeded its capacity to provide shelter onsite so far during this year's cold weather events.

Another service provider in the white flag procedure, The Salvation Army, does not discharge people when they reach the end of a transitional program without establishing permanent housing. The Salvation Amy also relaxes eligibility for others to enter into a program. If needed, there’s a cooperative agreement with KARM to use the Salvation Army gymnasium as overflow space if KARM reaches capacity, but that has not been used in several years. The resource remains available.

Volunteer Ministry Center also participates in the white flag program during freezing weather, inviting anyone (except those with criminal trespass issues) to come inside during the daytime, regardless of eligibility or participation in VMC programming.

Social service providers and the Knoxville Police Department actively check on unsheltered people during cold weather events to make them aware of the white-flag policy and to encourage them to take shelter. Some individuals may choose not to take advantage of the shelter that is offered. Outreach to these individuals is repeated in hopes they can be encouraged to come inside.

Many direct services are provided by faith-based organizations. How are City employees involved?

The Knoxville Police Department works directly with people experiencing homelessness in our community in enforcing the law, but also serving these residents with compassion. KPD officers are trained in Mental Health First Aid, and there are also specialized Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained officers who respond appropriately when interacting with people experiencing a mental-health crisis.

KPD partners and coordinates with social-service providers in order to help connect people in need with the appropriate shelter, housing and social services.

The Knoxville Fire Department responds to emergency situations as well.

The Public Service Department works to keep clean the public areas where individuals experiencing homelessness congregate, and the department partners with the Police Department to address health and safety issues as they arise.

The City also has recently contracted with the University of Tennessee College of Social Work to develop a new Coordinated Entry System (CES) to assess and prioritize the needs of homeless individuals and families when they first make contact with a service provider.

The CES will strengthen coordination between service providers. They will all be using the same new assessment tool, in order to quickly refer individuals and families to the most appropriate and best available resources, and to identify those who are most vulnerable to assure that those in the most acute crises will be the first to receive attention.

What is the City’s policy regarding homeless camps? When and how are camp sites cleaned up?

Year-round, City employees and partner social service providers encourage homeless campers to seek appropriate indoor shelter. That’s the best option for individuals experiencing homelessness to receive assistance and work toward long-term stability, independence and self-sufficiency.

Active camps are not cleared during periods of extreme cold weather unless there are other unusual, major public safety concerns, and in those cases, every effort is made to help those individuals to access appropriate shelter and services.

As part of ongoing, standard operations to ensure public health and safety, City crews periodically clean up encampments on public property, generally due to illegal activity or lack of sanitary conditions due to litter and food or human waste.

Before a camp cleanup, the City notifies people living in the encampments that they will need to move to more appropriate shelter and informs them of the pending cleanup. A specific date is scheduled and shared with the camp residents. The City and its service-provider partners work to assist people living in these encampments to find appropriate shelter or housing and to allow them time to safeguard their belongings. The collaborative aim of the City and the service providers is to help the encampment residents access resources and live with dignity in a safe, healthy environment.

The City also responds to complaints of illegal camps on private property. Clearing of these camps is managed similarly to clearing of camps on public property; the campers are asked to relocate and given a date by which they are to have removed their belongings.

Where can I find contact information and details about local service providers?

Visit the Knoxville-Knox County Coalition for the Homeless website: www.knoxhomeless.org. Select the tab, “Looking for Homeless Assistance.”

Where can I get up-to-date data on Knoxville’s homeless population as well as the performance of local service providers?

The City’s Office on Homelessness and the Knoxville Homeless Management Information System (KnoxHMIS) in 2016 launched an interactive website to provide the community with at-a-glance detailed information on homelessness in Knoxville.

To visit the website, click on www.knoxhmis.org/dashboard.

The Community Dashboard on Homelessness was developed in response to Knoxville’s Plan to Address Homelessness. The dashboard reports quarterly data on population demographics and the performance of homeless service providers, with specified benchmarks and outcomes.

In operation since 2004, KnoxHMIS currently serves 20 area homeless service providers. Representatives of the Mayor’s Roundtable on Homelessness, the Knoxville-Knox County Homeless Coalition, and KnoxHMIS Community Partners provided input and feedback for the development of the Community Dashboard on Homelessness.

Dashboard data includes:

• Homeless counts (total number of people served, those who are new to homelessness, and those at-risk of homelessness);
• Causes of homelessness;
• Housing outcomes (time to housing, length of housing, housing placements, shelter recidivism);
• Shelter bed utilization; and
• Special population information (veterans, families and youth homelessness).

What are some of the factors that can lead to homelessness?

Causes of homelessness are complex, and each individual or family has its own circumstances and story to tell. Common factors that contribute to homelessness include not enough affordable housing; eviction from housing; unemployment; low wages; domestic violence; mental illness; drug and alcohol addiction; medical conditions; loss of transportation; aging out of foster care; release from jail or prison; utility shutoff; and other causes.

Homelessness is often just the most visible symptom of these other issues that individuals and families experience, and different causes often cascade and add up as people experience personal crises and run out of resources and options.

Who provides input to the Office on Homelessness?

To aid in the coordination of the implementation of Knoxville’s Plan to Address Homelessness, the Mayor’s Roundtable on Homelessness meets quarterly. The Roundtable is chaired by the Mayor and convenes the leadership of government, social service agencies, ministries and other community partners to share updates, coordinate efforts and to hold one another accountable for pursuing the positive outcomes called for in the plan.

Members of the Mayor’s Roundtable on Homelessness include:

• KnoxHMIS – David Patterson
• Knoxville-Knox County Homeless Coalition – Gabrielle Cline
• Knoxville Leadership Foundation/Flenniken Landing – Chris Martin/Chris Smith
• Volunteer Ministry Center – Bruce Spangler
• Compassion Coalition – Grant Standefer
• Volunteers of America – Clyde Vincent
• Knox Area Rescue Ministries – Burt Rosen/Steve Clabough
• Helen Ross McNabb Center – Leann Human-Hilliard/Michael Waltke
• Family Promise of Knoxville – Mary LeMense
• YWCA – Alle Lilly/Marigail Mullin
• KCDC – Ben Bentley/Debbie Taylor-Allen
• United Way – Marie Alcorn
• Veterans Administration – Christie Cook
• Cherokee Health – Joel Hornberger/Matt Magrans-Tillery 
• Knoxville-Knox County CAC – Barbara Kelly/Misty Goodwin
• Knox County Health Department – Martha Buchanan
• District Attorney’s Office – Charme Allen/Sam Lee
• Catholic Charities – Lisa Healy
• The Salvation Army – Major David Worthy/Donna Wright
• Positively Living – Steve Jenkins
• Expert Emeritus – Roger Nooe
• Knoxville Police Department – Chief Eve Thomas/Officer Thomas Clinton
• Mayor Indya Kincannon
• Knoxville City Council – Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie
• City’s Community Development Department – Becky Wade
• City’s 211/311 – Russ Jensen
• City’s Office on Homelessness – Michael Dunthorn

What’s the best way for me to help?

The Office on Homelessness asks individuals, charities and faith-based organizations to work through the local nonprofits whose mission is to deliver services daily to persons experiencing homelessness here in Knoxville.

Need suggestions on where to begin? Contact the Office on Homelessness at 865-215-3103.

Or call the 211 help line, administered by the City’s 311 Center for Service Innovation. The 211 service is a collaboration of CAC’s Office on Aging, the City and United Way organizations across the region, and it provides referrals to local community services.

Coordinating donation of money, time or goods with the service providers avoids duplication and gets resources to where they are most critically needed.