Those who grew up in the Knox County area have a very specific image of homelessness. Anyone who has been downtown has seen the camps laid out under Magnolia Street Bridge or the people slumped behind restaurants or on street corners at Market Square. When moving beyond the downtown area into the suburbs, however, homelessness seems to virtually disappear.
That would seem to be the case with Blount County, but the reality of homelessness is very different from what people see. The homeless in Blount County vary from working families who are living with friends or relatives to single parents and their children sleeping in a car. These people are invisible, but they suffer just the same. Family Promise is one organization in Blount County which attempts to alleviate homelessness, and Maryville College junior Emma Everett is working alongside them.
Family Promise is an organization based in Blount County that offers multiple programs to help homeless families. Their most influential is their shelter program. Families that qualify are sheltered in various local churches across Blount County. Each church houses them on a rotation which switches each week. According to Everett, 75-80 percent of the people in the shelter program are children.
In addition to sheltering the families, Family Promise helps them obtain permanent housing by providing them transportation to their jobs and helping them gather important documents. They also require that the families make and maintain a strict budget so that they can open savings accounts in case of an emergency.
“Other shelters don’t care if you have a birth certificate or not, but we help make sure people have those things so they can get back on their feet,” Everett said. “Family Promise fills a unique niche in the community that nobody else does. They are a homeless shelter, but they also do intensive case management.”
A big part of Everett’s mission as the marketing intern is to help spread the word about the program and to inform people on the reality of homelessness. During her time at Family Promise, she has designed a number of promotional materials including posters and videos to help change the way people think about the homeless.
“It’s not that there are all of these people who don’t want to work; they just can’t afford to live….one bad thing happens to them and everything spirals out of control,” Everett said, adding that Blount County has one of the highest housing costs in East Tennessee.
Many families in the program come from situations where none of the adults in the household are necessarily unemployed, but their salaries do not provide enough money to support their families.
“Say you have both parents working and they are just trying to make ends meet, and then the car breaks down,” Everett said. “What are they supposed to do? Pay to fix the car or pay rent?”
If you or someone you know requires assistance in obtaining permanent housing and employment, Family Promise can be contacted at (865) 233-4737.