Those who work in schools know. Those who provide services to the needy agree. Law enforcement representatives concur.
And those who attempt to help the homeless are all too aware there is a problem in Loudon County and East Tennessee.
A group of people representing all those areas and more came together last week and shared concerns about the issue and discussed how to proceed and address the problem.
Cindy Purdy, Loudon County Schools Family Resource Center director and Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness board member, was organizer for the meeting. Purdy said she thought the meeting was the next step needed to move forward in the county.
"We realized we didn't have adequate resources within our county, and we realized there is more our community can be doing to address homelessness - with our community partners, with our leaders and agencies - to promote awareness," Purdy told attendees. "We want to hear your ideas."
Melanie Cordell, TVCEH executive director, said Loudon County has made a good start to address the problem.
"Your county Mayor Estelle Herron is on board," Cordell said. "A lot of counties don't think they have a homeless problem."
Cordell said Loudon County's point in time count last January was the best count so far, but those numbers likely were far lower than the reality. A partnership of agencies, charitable services, churches and government is needed to get to the root of the problem, she said.
"You have three literally or chronically homeless families reported in Loudon County. ... We know. Because there is no shelter here, you send them to neighboring counties or Knoxville. Knoxville doesn't have funds to serve your homeless population. It needs to be served at its core," Cordell said.
The county needs to get plans in place to meet Housing and Urban Development requirements so that funding is available to Loudon, Cordell said. A local homeless coalition with charitable services and agencies reporting their numbers on a regular basis through Homeless Management Information Systems is a necessary step to gather needed data, she said.
Training is needed along with awareness efforts. TVCEH will provide the software and training free of charge and serve as the county's liaison for getting federal funds. "It is so important to get on board and report accurately," Cordell said.
She said the continuing misconception about the definition of homelessness is a large part of the problem. In Loudon County, the "precariously housed" or "couch homeless" sleeping in homes of friends was the largest category, with more than 200 people. Those people are considered homeless.
Cordell said HUD is not supporting funding for crisis shelters. Transitional housing and low-income housing may be needed, she said.
"We have people calling every day because we have transitional housing and low income as well," Alicia Fossett, with the Crisis Center for Women, said. "The low-income housing is through an NSP (Neighborhood Stabilization Program) grant. Our transitional housing program is probably our most successful program. We get as many if not more calls for homelessness as we get domestic violence calls."
In 2009, the Crisis Center for Women received a grant from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency to assist in the purchase of homes to be used for the purpose of low-income rental housing for the residents of Loudon County. The grant, better known as the Neighborhood Stabilization Project, allowed the Crisis Center for Women to buy five rental homes in downtown Loudon.
Paula Roach, Good Samaritan Center executive director, said the number of people struggling to survive is mind-boggling.
"We are fearful because of the numbers increase we're seeing on a weekly basis," she said. "Last year at this time it was 12 to 15 families a day. Now, it's 30 families a day. It goes up each year."
Roach said the fact that the homeless are less visible in Loudon County makes it difficult to convince people of the problem. She said families are living in small motels and inns in every community. While they may be employed, they cannot save enough money to pay rent and deposits on a home, she said.
Loudon Police Officer Bill Evans said he was aware of some homeless families living in wooded areas around the county.
"I can go to the interstate and see homeless people every day if I look for it, especially on I-75, but I think a lot of it is people who pass through," Evans said.
Purdy said her concern was the increase in children without homes.
"We put two kids in an inn today in Loudon," she said. "We used to have six a year. I had six last week."
Amber Scott, Lenoir City risk manager and human resources director, said Lenoir City, Loudon and Loudon County government housing programs have waiting lists to serve families needing a place to live. An effort should be made to find an alternative solution for the sake of children, she said.
"That's where the cycle begins," Scott said, referring to children who are homeless and staying in a car or temporary shelter. "The kids have low self-esteem - they feel like the lowest of the low because they have no stability. We've got to start some place, and if we start with the little ones. ... We need to figure the next steps."
Purdy agreed. "We've got to start some place," she said. "We'd been doing OK, but it is outgrowing us."
Meetings will be planned to establish a local coalition and get the community involved in developing a 10-year-plan to end homelessness, which are requirements to be eligible for HUD funding.