Volunteer Ministry Center

The Shadow of Homelessness -The Under the Bridge Phenomenon

“I prefer to live outside,” said a homeless individual. These words, unfortunately, feed the myth that homeless is a choice. As Interstate 40 weaves its way through Knoxville, its overpasses create shadows that hover over and cloak worlds below. The “darkest” of shadows seems to be cast by the overpass over Broadway, separating the central city from its northern entrance. Every night, 25-40 people “live” in make-shift campsites amidst the clutter. Known as “under the bridge,” lie our neighbors in the shadows of homelessness.

The decision to “live outside” is not a desire to “live off-the-grid,” but something else.

This proposal’s premise is that a “preference” for living outside is based on the overcrowding, health/safety risks, restrictions, and/or fear of separation from significant others that are experienced and/or perceived within a traditional emergency shelter. This proposal is to explore the development of a low-barrier emergency shelter that provides overnight accommodations (30-40 beds) paired with direct and indirect access to social services. The end goal is not shelter; it is permanent housing. Aligning a shelter environment with a Housing First approach provides access to shelter without prerequisites with an entrée to permanent housing options. Potential collaborators include the City’s Office on Homelessness, Knoxville Police Department, Helen Ross McNabb, Salvation Army, and Community Action Committee with sustained funding from VMC existing streams of revenue.