Extreme temps prompt dialogue with nonprofit for homeless shelter

Published 12:19 pm Monday, January 22, 2024

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By Jan Runions


The homeless are all around us; it takes but the eyes to see, the heart to feel, the hands to help. Those eyes, heart and hands have been the catalyst for a dialogue with the Tennessee Valley Coalition for the Homeless. The organization is interested in helping Claiborne County secure funding to build and operate a homeless shelter. Dialogue was expected to commence on Jan. 23 between local businessman Carl Nichols, realtor Christy Brock and the Coalition.

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Talk of having a homeless shelter in the county has been bandied about for decades but the necessary logistics to move forward were repeatedly stalled at the county government level – likely due to ongoing operational expenses once monies were set aside for the actual construction.

Last week’s extreme weather prompted Nichols to see whether provisions had been made to assist the county’s homeless and those who find themselves without utilities during the deep temperature dive.

When he discovered that only a few places – Upper Room Ministries, Young’s Chapel and Ye Olde Church in Cumberland Gap – were providing warming stations, Nichols decided to open the doors of his New Tazewell Realty Group Office.

He took to Facebook with his plans and says he was nonplussed at the outpouring of tangible help provided by Claiborne County residents in the form of food, bedding, cash and other necessities. When Andy Duncan, owner of Duncan Lumber, heard of Nichols’ plans, he quickly offered his 1st Avenue Meeting Hall for use.

Organizations and agencies like the American Red Cross donated cots for the makeshift shelter. When the Tennessee Valley Coalition for the Homeless heard of Nichols’ and Brock’s work, the organization immediately contacted the New Tazewell Walmart to purchase needed items.

Brock has been in contact with the Coalition since its initial phone call to the Realty Group. She said the representative explained the organization’s proposal to support the development of a shelter through advocacy and connection to potential resources. Brock said the Coalition does not have the funding themselves but will facilitate the county in garnering funds via grants and other resources to which the organization is connected.

Nichols spoke of his newest project.

“I have been told from a small child that ‘the Lord moves in mysterious ways. A week ago, I could not have imagined being directly involved in our homeless population. I am beginning to feel that God has a plan.

“I understand that so many like me live in our middle class world often unaware of the living conditions of those in our community and county. We have no idea of the human suffering that exists. This week I have witnessed the best that Claiborne County has to offer, as well as the worst imaginable.”

Nichols spoke of his “emotional roller coaster ride” resulting from the week the hazardous weather had produced.

“We served a family of four who were living in a tent in zero weather; a group of eight homeless individuals living in an abandoned house with no heat; two elderly men living alone with no electricity and a family of seven, the youngest of which was one year old who had not eaten for more than 24 hours.

“The sheriff’s department brought them to us for food, clothing, and bedding. After the deputy took them home they reported back that living conditions were deplorable. They were rationing heat to the point of hardly having any and for us to expect them to be returned prior to the next impending storm.”

Nichols says an ambulance was called for one of the elderly ladies that had been in the makeshift shelter since Jan. 14.

“We have a homeless young man seeking a job – wants to turn his life around, but due to a past record, he is facing rejection at every turn. We have a middle aged homeless man with multiple personalities. Fortunately, everyone living in his head is gentle, humorous, and thankful to have a warm place to stay and to have food. One of his personalities is always giving me a gift, if only a tissue, hugging me, and saying thanks.

“This is only a small sampling of the human strife existing in our county. The saddest part is where does the solution begin? Who is responsible for finding a solution? If we close our eyes tightly enough, will it all go away? If we pretend it’s their problem, not ours, do we sleep with a clear conscious? If we cover our ears, will we not hear the cry of hungry children? If we try to convince ourselves that they brought it on themselves, are we justified to draw that conclusion. But, the thing I fear most is when I am facing judgment before the Almighty, what excuse will I give in hopes I will convince Him as to why I did not follow His command of caring for the least of His,” said Nichols.

Those involved in the warming station/shelter worked tirelessly last week to keep it open through the next bout of snow and low temps – having been predicted to last through Jan. 22 and beyond.

For more information, call Brock at 423-489-0070.

The Tennessee Valley Coalition for the Homeless covers 12 counties as a partner in providing guidance in all things homeless.