A Facebook post about people experiencing homelessness sparked a community forum in Murfreesboro where people gathered to discuss solutions for helping the homeless community.
The Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting the homeless in Middle Tennessee, recently held an event, “Downtown Dwellers,” where the group presented data collected from people experiencing homelessness, and created an open forum for business leaders, nonprofit organizations and Murfreesboro residents.
At the beginning of the event, Cold Patrol Director Jason Bennett explained that an infamous Facebook post by a local Murfreesboro business owner sparked the creation of the Downtown Dwellers event.
“The reason we had this event was because we have seen this problem grow,” said Amber Hampton, the assistant director of the Cold Patrol. “So, we wanted to help serve the conversation. We want to start the conversation so that you know what resources are already available, what the picture looks like and to discuss the solutions.”
The Facebook post states, “As a local business owner, I have become increasingly concerned with the homeless population that are hanging out on the park benches, in front of business, on the courthouse lawn, etc. I know these folks are down on their luck or ill, but the image of this is hurting our downtown area.”
“When I read (the post), I realized that it does make our city look bad – not the (homeless) people, but that our city has this problem,” Bennett said. “It’s our whole community's problem.”
The comments on the post contained many ideas for ways to better assist the homeless community, such as the City of Murfreesboro investing in more shelters and having more accessible resources. The author of the Facebook post, Murfreesboro attorney Michelle Blaylock-Howser, attended the event and stated that, despite some misconstruing her post, she wishes to assist the homeless community in any way possible.
“I was very worried because I had met one of the homeless folks the day that I had posted that, and it was on my mind,” Blaylock-Howser said. “It was 110 degrees in the shade that day, and I made sure he had plenty of water, but I left thinking, ‘What’s gonna happen now? Where’s he going?’ So that’s why I put the post on there the day that I did, because it bothered me.”
To illustrate and discuss some of the larger issues, such as the homeless being subject to extreme heat, the Cold Patrol presented data collected from homeless individuals that they have served in May and June of 2017. The data was organized and collected in partnership with the Middle Tennessee State University Social Work Department.
“We have been working with the MTSU Social Work Department, and they have been helping us put reports together since 2015,” Hampton said.
According to the presentation, 61 percent of homeless individuals in Murfreesboro never completed high school; 26 percent received a GED, while only 16 percent completed the 12th grade and another 16 percent completed the 11th grade. Of the people surveyed, the largest percentage, 41 percent, had been homeless for less than six months, while those who were homeless for two years or more made up 30 percent of the homeless individuals surveyed.
The presentation also displayed that, in Murfreesboro, there are only four family rooms, available through the Salvation Army, to house the homeless. For single men, there are 24 beds available through the Salvation Army; six of those beds are for their emergency shelter and 18 are for their work program. For single women, there are six beds available through the Salvation Army. The Stepping Stones Safe Haven shelter in Murfreesboro can provide a bed for 12 women or children, and the Way of Hope shelter can house approximately 25 women or children. Neither Stepping Stones nor Way of Hope will house boys over the age of 12.
“The issue that we are facing is shelter, and this is what sheltered housing looks like in Murfreesboro,” Hampton said.
The Coldest Nights shelter in Murfreesboro is also an option, but it only houses individuals when temperatures are 32 degrees or below. According to the Cold Patrol’s data, 320 individuals stayed in the Coldest Nights shelter in the winter of 2016-17.
“You guys just saw what the shelter bed situation looks like,” Hampton said. “That’s 320 on top of that that had nowhere else to go. And we know that there are a lot more people that never access those shelters.”
According to the annual point-in-time count conducted by homeless service providers, in 2016, approximately 2,000 people in Rutherford County did not have a home or were precariously housed on a couch or floor. About 40 percent of that 2,000 was represented by families with children. Approximately 1,500 children registered in Rutherford County and Murfreesboro city schools were registered as homeless.
The data also displayed limitations for homeless individuals in receiving housing and jobs, such as health concerns, mental problems, felonies, credit history, lack of transportation and lack of a job history.
Once the forum was opened for discussion between business leaders and nonprofit representatives, some of the major themes that emerged were the need for volunteers, additional shelter space and easily accessible knowledge of the resources that are available and the needs of the community.
“It’s hard to fix a problem if you don’t know where it’s coming from and if you don’t know what’s starting it,” Hampton said.