Blount County prepares to open Warming Center to serve homeless

At the beginning of December, which for most of us means finishing up holiday shopping and planning festive meals with family.

But for Blount County's homeless population, December signals the start of three cold and potentially dangerous months.

That's been on the minds of many in the community, especially a committee born out of a homeless forum held in 2017. The members were charged with looking into the possibility of opening a warming shelter.

After months of meetings and seeking a central location, the temporary shelter is becoming a reality. First Baptist Church Maryville has agreed to host the warming shelter, which will be opened overnight whenever the temperature drops to 20 degrees or lower.

Rick Myers, director of the Chilhowee Baptist Center, has agreed to be one of the leaders of the effort. Others on the committee include Wendy Wand of United Way; Kathi Parkins, executive director of Family Promise of Blount County; Phil Hoffman; Lance Coleman, Blount County emergency management director; Don Stallions, director of general services for Blount County; and Associate Pastor Gary Stinnett of First Baptist Maryville.

With $10,000 from United Way and another $1,000 from the East Tennessee Foundation, funding is secured. Cots and disposable blankets have been purchased.

      Insulated bedding for guests. Courtesy photo.

The biggest need now: volunteers for staffing.

Right now, six churches have agreed to volunteer their services at the shelter. They are Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, Maryville First United Methodist, Foothills Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Fairview United Methodist, Broadway United Methodist and First Baptist Maryville, the host site.

Breaking it up so churches or organizations take only one night per week for a month makes it manageable, he added.

"It's many hands working together," Hoffman said. "We are hoping to get more people excited about this because it's a great thing for Blount County."

Stallions pointed out this isn't a Baptist or Methodist project, but a coming together for a faith-based mission to which all can belong.

The hours for the shelter will be 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Both an evening meal and breakfast will be provided. As for whether someone is homeless or not, Parkins said all who seek shelter will be welcome.

There might be those who have homes but can't afford to heat them, Stallions pointed out. "They need shelter on cold nights."

In addition to providing a warm place to spend the night, Hoffman said a list of resources will be provided to those who are seeking help with utility bills or affordable housing. Veterans may need help getting their benefits, he said. Some may need the services of food pantries.

Hoffman said situations will arise that the team may not have considered as this first-ever shelter gets off the ground. Regardless, the time is now, he said.

Parkins said this community, like many others, has counted its homeless population for the annual Point-in-Time count, and the time for action is at hand.

"The incidence of homelessness is growing," she said. "We can't ignore it."

Melanie Tucker, The Daily Times website

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are Engaging in ministry with the poor with their communities in ways that are transformative.