East Ridge elected officials now have a real opportunity to address the issue of homelessness.
The real question is will they?
Last week Chattanooga officials came up with a plan to put a roof over the heads of at least 100 area homeless people for three months. The problem was the roof over their heads was at the Budgetel motel in East Ridge. Compounding the problem was the fact that our elected officials knew nothing of said plan until they read about it in the news.
Mayor Brian Williams, knowing what a sensitive issue homelessness is, reacted with a great deal of caution and restraint. I’m going out on a limb here, but I believe the vast majority of people in East Ridge were in high dudgeon over Chattanooga’s plan to use an East Ridge motel to address its own homeless issues. I suspect Williams was as well.
But, his response was measured and predictable. Let’s set up a meeting with the Chattanooga folks and talk about this thing. When that happened Chattanooga backed off its plan to exploit East Ridge and will now use a Chattanooga motel to get homeless off the street.
The issue of homelessness, for the moment, is now front and center. East Ridge has a significant number of homeless people. At one time or another many of us have encountered them panhandling at the Terrace, shuffling down Ringgold Road with their worldly possessions in tow, catching their breath outside a convenience store, or lining up at the Methodist church for a box from the East Ridge Community Food Pantry.
Some here in East Ridge find the plight of homeless people heartbreaking. I suspect the vast majority of our residents are more callous toward the homeless issue. As evidence, one need only peruse several social media sites that our folks here use to gauge the temperature of the collective social conscience.
Chattanooga officials were prepared to pony up $400,000 to get the homeless off the street for a 90-day period. The city was to be reimbursed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
If Chattanooga can do that, why can’t East Ridge? Potentially we can; maybe not on such a large scale, as our population is much smaller and we don’t have a department within city government that is dedicated to social services, although our East Ridge Housing Commission has occasionally acted as such.
We don’t know how many homeless people there are in East Ridge. The recent “point in time” count of homeless in the area came up with 364 people as being “chronically homeless.” When East Ridge News Online asked those in charge of the project how many of the homeless were counted in East Ridge, we were told the number wasn’t broken down geographically.
I would wager the East Ridge cops could come pretty close to giving us a number, as they interact with the homeless seven days a week, 365 days a year.
I’m sure our police officers know where the homeless camps are and pretty much how many of those people suffer from mental illness and are hooked on dope and/or alcohol. Some of the homeless wind up in the county jail for public intoxication, criminal trespassing, and I remember seeing one charge of aggravated littering.
Some of the people who are homeless are just broke and have nowhere to turn. Some time ago, I recall police officers and city officials helping a woman and her children out who were stranded at Camp Jordan Park in a decrepit camper. They were allowed to stay there, temporarily, and the cops and others brought them food and tried to help out any way they could.
I have no idea how to systematically help homeless people in our city. Yes, the example given above was just a band-aid. But isn’t a band-aid better than an open wound that just keeps bleeding?
While this issue is fresh on our minds, I urge the East Ridge City Council to make a serious effort to explore state and federal programs which may help our city offset costs associated with at least trying to give a hand up to homeless people.
I seriously doubt the council will act but we can always hope. And when our hope is gone, that’s common ground we can all share with some our homeless people.