Bristol has a homeless problem.
After dropping to an all-time low in 2016, the population of homeless residents in the Twin City is on the rise again. The growth has created an “image problem” downtown. A recent study commissioned by Bristol, Tennessee, leaders shows homeless people make people feel unsafe, and business leaders have complained to local law enforcement and Chamber of Commerce representatives about the disruption they bring to the area. It’s a dark mark on the city’s economic development efforts.
But Bristol’s problem has nothing to do with the people.
A majority of the time homeless residents are down on their luck and left to find a living on the streets. They’re human just like the rest of us, and they need our help.
The city does not offer enough daytime services for the homeless. Many of them are confined to the downtown area, because that’s where the shelters are, and many of the shelters close during the day leaving them no place to go but the Bristol Public Library, the streets or parks.
Everything they need to work on creating a better life is located in a one-mile radius near State Street.
When the homeless are out and about downtown in the freezing cold or extreme heat, it’s not because they’re looking to bother anyone. It’s because they have nowhere else to go.
The good news is that Bristol residents can come together fix the problem. And some local leaders have started taking steps in the right direction.
Rather than implementing the hostile architecture — an urban design trend in which public spaces are constructed to discourage people from using them in a way not intended by the owner — that larger cities have added to their economic centers to deter homeless residents, a number of city representatives have banded together to develop the idea of a day center.
The day center would offer everything to help people get back on their feet. The bare necessities, career counseling, medical services — it’s perfect. The community needs to give the project its full support. Johnson City has had success from the introduction of its day center, so there’s already evidence that it works. It just needs the right placement.
The study that the city presented in December suggested moving services for the needy away from the downtown area to reduce the impact on businesses. And we think that might be an excellent idea. Not because the homeless need to be hidden or ignored in favor of economic development, but because it gives leaders the ability to work with local nonprofits to bring new life to services around the Twin City. And it will give the region’s homeless residents new facilities and the opportunity to live a life without feeling ostracized by the tourism and development of downtown.
The move could even allow the Salvation Army to have an escape from the request by Norfolk Southern to remove parts of their building or start paying the railroad company $1,000 a month after it was revealed that part of the building encroaches on the company’s land. And while we understand that some organizations wouldn’t want to move from their current location, it could be a new start that benefits everyone and offers more opportunities for these organizations to grow and improve their services.
Working to help the homeless is something that the community can do together and should do together. It’s an issue that allows Bristolians to reach over state lines and help their fellow man. And by improving services for the city’s homeless, we can follow the advice suggested by Bristol Virginia City Manager Randy Eads and start focusing on the root of the area’s homeless problem and take steps to stop it at the source.