"On any given night, in Athens alone, there are 63 people that are homeless," said Heather Rowell, coordinator for McMinn County's annual Point in Time Count, which was held on Jan. 25 to measure the local homeless population in order to help the area potentially qualify for funding and resources to address the issue.

Rowell, a social worker for Hiwassee Mental Health Services, states these numbers are not exact, because many homeless individuals, especially women, refused to speak with those conducting the survey, and often do not trust the shelters, so they end up "camping out" and, as a result, go unaccounted. Those who "couch-surf" are also not eligible to be included in the count.

Of the verified 63 people, there are approximately 10 homeless children, nine homeless females, and 44 homeless males.

"My main goal is to raise awareness," Rowell said. "Some people don't want to recognize that McMinn has a homeless problem, but we do, and we need resources."

McMinn County currently has no homeless shelter for women.

The Grace House in Downtown Athens and Samaritan House between Athens and Riceville are accessible to men, and The H.O.P.E. Center is only for women actively fleeing domestic violence situations. According to Rowell, if a woman is homeless without the domestic violence component, then there is no place for her to seek shelter, unless she is bused to Chattanooga.

Rowell is actively trying to target this problem by assembling a group of people who can create solutions.

"Those that have a heart are trying to organize a non-profit to open a true shelter which can be accessible for women and men," she said.

Other ways that people can help include providing a place to shower and wash clothes, according to Rowell.

"We want to help them get back in the workplace," she said. "Cleanliness is a big factor in getting hired. It is hard to get a job at a fast food place if you have not showered in a week or been able to wash your clothes."

Rowell credited Coordinated Charities with providing a change of clothes and groceries. However, another issue is that people living a homeless lifestyle do not have a place to cook.

"Having a place to eat, shower, and wash clothes is really needed, but unless you are experienced with this, you don't think much about it," Rowell said.

Rowell works with Cooperative Agreement to Benefit Homeless Individuals (CABHI), a program affiliated with Hiwassee Mental Health in Athens which serves 11 counties, including McMinn and Meigs. CABHI's goal is to rehabilitate homeless individuals by having them housed in nine months. However, the program quit accepting newcomers in September and will be completed and ended in June.

For more information, contact Heather Rowell at 423-463-6437 or email hrowell@vbhcs.org


Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.