A group of area residents concerned about the plight of homeless people in Loudon County met again this week to continue plans for addressing the problem.
While the East Tennessee Valley Coalition to End Homelessness wants member counties to develop a 10-year plan for helping the homeless, most of the meeting attendees were looking for more immediate solutions.
Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron, who initiated the county's participation in the Point In Time homeless count in January, was in attendance. Herron said she hoped to find groups to partner with to meet needs she encounters almost daily.
Herron has spoken repeatedly of her concerns about homeless people.
"This is a hard time," she said at a recent meeting in Loudon. "We have to do something about it. We are going to do something about it.
"When I took office two years ago, I wanted to know if there were homeless in my county," Herron said. "I took a lot of criticism when we did the PIT count. Residents here don't see our homeless. They aren't sleeping under bridges. People thought it was a waste of time to do the count but still I wanted to know."
She soon found out firsthand.
"One week it sort of rained homeless people," Herron said. "Some people may be homeless by choice, but others are truly having a hard time."
Herron recounted a recent incident involving an elderly woman found crying under a picnic table and told of Herron's struggles to find help for the woman.
"She hadn't eaten in three days," Herron said. "I found out who she was and I found out we could place a man quick and we could place children quick, but not an elderly lady. There's nowhere to go with females. I have spoken with several church organizations and one gentleman is going to talk to his church and see if they will take this on as a church project.
"If Loudon County gets it in their mind to do something we can get it accomplished," Herron said. "If we pray about it, I know we can do it."
Paula Roach, executive director for the Good Samaritan Center, said the needs are real.
"Of course, we can't help them all, but if we could house a family a day or two while we find them a family to stay with, one at a time ...," she said. Cindy Purdy, TVCEH representative, said the struggles of local families should be obvious. "When you have seven of nine of your schools at 40 percent or greater free or reduced lunches, there are kids sleeping in cars at night," she said.
The Rev. David Smith, Love INC (In the Name of Christ) board president, said he has worked to help homeless people on an individual basis.
"We used to have a lot. It seems to have settled down, although they still straggle in and we still get calls now and then," he said.
Smith said he heard of two families living with a grandmother in Lenoir City without food but could not help them because of confidentiality laws.
Cheryl and Howard Gudger, representatives of Shaw Hollow Ministries, a family ministry to the homeless from Monroe County, said they have been accepting homeless people from Loudon County and giving them a place to stay temporarily in cabins on their own property. They asked for local support and offered their help in caring for those who need temporary shelter.
"We minister to them and give them a place that is safe and drug free and connect them with churches to meet specific needs," Cheryl Gudger said.
Purdy said the next step is to decide what the local coalition will be called and get others involved in the planning process. She said mayors from all Loudon County cities were invited to get involved, but none attended.