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The Homeless: Standing in the shadow of Williamson County

Part I

During his second week on the job in 2006 as executive director of Community Housing Partnership, Steve Murray caught his first glimpse of the face of the homeless in Williamson County.

“A mother walked in with a baby and said, ‘I’m homeless, I don’t know what to do,’” Murray said.

The woman and her four children were living in the woods behind a “prominent apartment complex” in Franklin after being evicted when her boyfriend, and his extra income, moved out. “She said, ‘If I can get to my grandmother’s house, everything will be ok,’” Murray said.

Equipped with bus fare, Murray put the mother and family in route to grandmother’s house in another state. “She called me the next day to say that she was on her grandmothers’ porch drinking coffee and all was well with the world.”

Sometimes contacting family is the solution, Murray said. And sometimes, it’s a temporary stay in a hotel or motel. “However, not all stories have happy endings,” he said.

The face of homelessness is not always visible, and it carries many different looks and touches many different socioeconomic levels in the county.

“We want to pretend that it’s not here, but it is,” Tina Edwards, executive director of GraceWorks said.

“Some people think that homelessness means living on the street in a box. But one is homeless if you don’t have your own roof over your head. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to even admit it to themselves,” Edwards said.

Homelessness takes many forms. Some recognize homelessness as someone sleeping on a park bench or making a home in a tent in the woods. For others, it means school children relying on the parents of their classmates to care for them when school is not in session. Community workers often refer to these children as “couch surfers.”

Williamson County Homeless Coalition is created
Williamson County Homeless Coalition formed about nine months ago by the United Way of Williamson County to address the issue of homelessness.

A support guide published by the coalition reads, “Homelessness is an issue in Williamson County.” 

About two years ago, concerned social workers, counselors, and educational leaders in the Williamson County Schools district brought the issue of homeless teens to the attention of community nonprofit leaders, which ultimately led to the formation of the coalition.

Although statistics vary locally, Williamson County Schools recorded about 140 homeless children in the district last year, while Franklin Special School District recorded about 26, GraceWorks reported serving about 52 homeless teens and CHP helped to place about 64 homeless individuals in temporary or permanent housing last year.

The coalition is a partnership between local nonprofit organizations such as CHP, My Friend’s House, Franklin Housing Authority, GraceWorks, Youth Villages and representatives from Williamson County Schools and Franklin Special School District.

The need here rose sharply during the Great Recession, as evidenced in the number of residents seeking help from area community nonprofit organizations and the federal government.

The percentage of families on food stamps in the county, for instance, rose about 79 percent from 2008 to 2013 from 2,014 households in July 2008 to 3,626 households in July 2013, according the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Last year, GraceWorks provided 275 percent more goods from its food pantry compared to just five years ago.

GraceWorks also swells with families in need. With limited space – a capital campaign was launched this summer to fund a larger facility. The organization’s fuel bag, a weekend nutrition program, which provides weekend food to students on free and reduced lunch at 15 city and county schools, increased 700 percent since 2010 – serving about 555 students a week last year, reaching only 10 percent of the approximately 5,500 children who qualify for the program. GraceWorks hopes to serve 700 students this fall.

Click here for Part II.


Posted on: 9/11/2013


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