Bristol city leaders want to create day center for the homeless

Bristol Homeless Population.jpg

Leaders from Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia are working together to reduce homeless numbers in the city.

According to the Homeless Point in Time count done in January 2018, there are 102 homeless living in Bristol.

Lisa Cofer is the executive director of United Way of Bristol TN/VA, she thinks that number could be even higher.

"I don't think everyone was counted. It's difficult to find where everyone is staying in January because they're all trying to stay indoors," said Cofer.

Now, a coalition called the "Bristol Day Center Working Group" is trying to bring a Day Center to the area specifically for the homeless.

Currently, there are several resources available to the homeless in Bristol like the Salvation Army and Haven of Rest Rescue Mission.

"The Salvation Army and Haven of Rest provide hot meals, a place to sleep, and place to wash your clothes," said Cofer.

But between meals, those in need can't stay at Salvation Army. Haven of Rest will open its doors by appointment.

As a result, many go to the library during the day to use the bathrooms and have a roof over their heads. But the coalition says the library is not equipped with the proper services to help the homeless.

News 5 spoke to a Bristol woman who recently overcame homelessness. Shannon Gann is a mother of three and experienced housing insecurity from September-October. Her family had difficulty spending extended periods of time at local businesses because they have two service dogs.

Gann says getting back on her feet was a struggle without a place to go during the day.

Cofer says the Day Center would provide Wi-Fi and job search assistance.

"We would provide intensive case management services, healthcare, and mental health services," said Cofer.

The center would also have space for showers, laundry, and transportation to job interviews, work, and court.

Gann says she hopes the center could extend its transportation services to take people to the store and drug test locations.

"Not everyone can afford the bus," said Gann. "It may cost 60-80 cents to get on, but that's 60-80 cents people don't have."

She also hopes the center won't discriminate against those struggling with addiction.

The coalition understands some community members are concerned the Day Center might attract more homeless people to the area, but notes the center would help break the cycle of homelessness.

In a report the coalition created, the group states establishing a Day Center will also help cleanup downtown and make it more appealing to potential business ventures.

The coalition estimates the center would cost $100,000 to operate in the first year, and $350,000 by year three.

Public meetings will be held in January and February to discuss where the center might be created.

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