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How should Oak Ridge deal with homelessness?

Homeless man in Memphis

Homeless man in Memphis

Homelessness is the topic of the Lunch with the League (sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge) on Tuesday, March 5. As I wrote two years ago, there are homeless people here — and by now social service agencies know more about who they are and where they are than they did in 2011. In late January, the 24-hour “Point-in-Time Count” for Anderson County counted 72 people in the county who were “literally” homeless (both “unsheltered” homeless, who might be sleeping outdoors, in cars, in vacant buildings, or in all-night businesses, and “sheltered” homeless who were staying in shelters or supportive housing) and another 68 who were “precariously housed” (otherwise known as “couch homeless”). The homeless count has increased from year to year, probably because local agencies now have a better idea where and how to find the homeless here. I volunteered for this year’s count (because I wanted to learn more about the situation of this population and because I wanted to help) and participated in the midnight to 3 am shift, which looked for unsheltered homeless.

The lack of emergency shelters for the general homeless population in this county reduces the number of homeless here (local people lacking shelter are likely to end up in Knoxville shelters), but the numbers from this annual survey indicate unmet needs. The fact that their needs aren’t being met doesn’t mean they aren’t costing us money — a University of Tennessee study that found that in East Tennessee a chronically homeless person (the survey classified 56 of the Anderson County homeless as “chronically homeless”, based on a federal government definition of that term) costs the rest of us an average of $37,000 annually in costs for drug and alcohol treatment, jail time, emergency room care, and other services.

Mike Dunthorn is Tuesday’s luncheon speaker. His topic is ‚ÄúSolutions to prevent, reduce and end homelessness”. Dunthorn is an Oak Ridge native and ORHS graduate who is Program Manager for homeless service in the City of Knoxville’s Community Development Department, where he has worked since 1999. He was a co-author of the Knoxville-Knox County Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and is now working on developing a new revised plan. His presentation will focus on the issues confronting the City of Knoxville and efforts being made to address issues of homelessness by providing permanent solutions. He will address the value of partnering with many other organizations in providing assistance to the homeless, and will discuss how Oak Ridge and Anderson County may be able to benefit from some of the lessons learned in Knoxville. I look forward to hearing his perspectives on this topic.

Note: Lunch with the League is a free public event. It starts at noon in the Social Room at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church, on the corner of Robertsville Road and Oak Ridge Turnpike.



  1. Thank you for sharing! I saw my first report last fall and was wondering what the latest numbers were.

  2. Matt says:

    There is a new non-profit in town called TORCH that is working to deal with this issue. http://www.oakridgetorch.org

    They are located on Robertsville Rd.

  3. Ellen Smith says:

    You are so right about TORCH, Matt. It was TORCH that conducted the point-in-time count on behalf of the Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness (TVCEH) and that produced that summary sheet I linked to. Zabrina Minor of TORCH distributed that summary by email a few days ago.

  4. Ellen I just wanted to provide a link to the new updated PIT count http://www.oakridgetorch.org/programs/

    Also— please check out UT’s MBA presentation on how to house 8 to 10 individuals on any given night in shelter in Anderson County.

    Thank you for talking about and taking interest in this issue.

  5. amanda compas says:

    I want to let yall know I’m homless in oakridge sleep outside and hospital some been in cold and all torch done for me was give me a jacket and said I could take a shower in civic center ..thank them a lot for jacket but was no more help at all

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