Elizabethton church trying to establish first homeless shelter in Carter County

River's Edge Fellowship church plans to open Carter County's first homeless shelter. (Thomas Gray/WCYB)

Carter County has no shelters for emergencies or the homeless, but one church in Elizabethton is trying to change that.

This comes after a controversy last month, when some in the community were critical of emergency leaders for not opening a cold weather shelter. River's Edge Fellowship Church is now raising funds to open a temporary homeless shelter and begin building a permanent one.

"We've been helping people for many years, with food and with clothing and stuff,” church leader Darrin Smith said. “When that cold weather hit, we just realized that there are people that need shelter."

The church has already opened its basement to one homeless man this winter and has given him a job.

"We needed custodial stuff in the church, and property maintenance, and I said 'Would you like to work here? Would you like to be our property maintenance?'” Smith said. “He actually started crying and said "There's nothing better I'd like to do.'"

Leaders are now renovating the rest of the basement to accommodate more people. While the basement is still a work in progress, the goal is to create a dormitory-style living space, with one side for men and one side for women and children. They plan to start with the basement, then build a separate shelter.

"We own the field that's beside the property,” Smith said. “It's a big field right there, and we can build actually a huge complex."

It's not clear how many people are homeless in the county. The Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness only counted 14 in 2016, but since there's no shelter, it's hard to gather accurate data.

"It would have to find a funding mechanism,” Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said. “If it were to get established, then I would support it in any way I could."

The church has raised more than $2,000 toward the project so far and has started a Go Fund Me campaign to continue raising money. You can visit the church website here.

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