published Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Chattanooga's Community Kitchen begins offering shelter to homeless at night

Patrons of the East 11th Street homeless shelter stand outside with their belongings as volunteers set up for the night shelter at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen.
Patrons of the East 11th Street homeless shelter stand outside with their belongings as volunteers set up for the night shelter at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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  • photo
    Martell Jones moves a dining table to make room for night shelter sleeping at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen late Tuesday. The night shelter began Nov. 1, and will end Mar. 31, according to Executive Director Charlis Hughes.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Volunteer Katja Bruells serves the late meal Tuesday at the Community Kitchen.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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    Willie Ballard, one of several volunteers for night shelter setup, moves sleeping mats up a ramp into the mens area Tuesday at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Chattanooga Community Kitchen used to send homeless people away as night was coming, unable to give any answers on where they could sleep.

"So people stay in abandoned buildings and under awnings," said case manager Cindia Williams, who stops talking to hold back tears. "It's devastating to look at women or men with small children and say, 'I'm sorry. There really is nowhere for you to go.'"

But in November, homeless people got another option. The Community Kitchen started operating an emergency shelter and plans to continue through the cold weather season until March 31. It's the first time in its nearly 30-year history that the kitchen has operated as an emergency shelter.

"It's a great idea," said Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield. "The mayor has said all along that the city needs something like that, although he has never proposed building it."

Kitchen officials say the need is obvious, but what they're offering is just the bare basics.

"There are no programs, no access to computers. We're talking the core, most rudimentary shelter available," said Jens Christensen, the Kitchen's assistant director. "A pallet on the floor and a safe place to be out of the weather. You don't get the case manager services that we offer during the day. So the people staying here are folks who would be outside otherwise."

On average about 120 people a night sleep at the Kitchen, Christensen said.

Chattanooga provided the mats for the Kitchen's shelter and the Union Gospel Mission provides extra staff. Kitchen staff are learning and developing rules and a budget for the shelter as they go. The operating cost for mat and blanket, electricity and utilities is about $300 per night said Christensen.

The kitchen and the 60-bed Chattanooga Rescue Mission on Holtzclaw Avenue are the only emergency shelters in Chattanooga.

About 34 of the 46 beds available for men at the Rescue Mission have been filled and most of the 14 beds for women have been occupied each night in December, said Donald Baer, the Mission's director. He expects the shelter to fill as the weather gets colder.

Charles Partridge, 56, who has lived outdoors off and on for 15 years, calls the Community Kitchen a paradise and has slept there every night since it the emergency shelter has been open.

"It's like heaven," he said Tuesday while sitting in the shelter after eating lunch. "It's a whole lot better than sleeping outside. Better than empty houses or sleeping under bridges."

About 335 people have stayed overnight at the kitchen since Nov. 1, said Christensen. They've been mostly males and have ranged from 8 months to 75 years old, he said, while females who have stayed there ranged between 7 and 69 years old. And there have been five families, he said.

By the numbers

  • 120 -- Average number of people sleeping at the Community Kitchen
  • $300 -- Nightly cost for operating the shelter
  • 335 -- Number of different people who have slept at the shelter since it opened Nov. 1.
  • 60 -- Number of beds offered at the Chattanooga Rescue Mission, the only other emergency shelter in the city.

Source: Community Kitchen

The "compassion driving this" is to keep people safe at night when it's freezing cold outside to the point of death, Christensen said.

At least one man died in Chattanooga because of the cold in 2010, said Brother Ron Fender, the Kitchen's outreach case manager. The man was found just after Christmas near a downtown railroad track.

"At least for this winter we know there is no reason for anyone to freeze to death," Fender said. "We feel we're saving lives. People who would otherwise be on the streets have a warm safe place to lay their heads."

Kitchen officials opened the 24-hour shelter this year to avoid problems that came in the past with opening the center only sporadically during inclement weather.

Case managers who were supposed to operate day programs were having to stay up all night with no warning. And because decisions for the kitchen to remain open at night were usually made at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. the same morning, adequate staff was not always available.

"It was a strain," said the Kitchen's Executive Director Charlie Hughes. "This way we don't have to make a decision. We're going to open no matter what and we're using the data so by next spring, we won't say we think there is a need for a shelter, we'll say here are the numbers, the names of the people."

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about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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uniongospelmiss said...

Union Gospel Mission partners with homeless kitchen to run shelter

15 December 2011

As the winter comes, the Union Gospel Mission is providing services to the homeless in a cooperative venture with Chattanooga Community Kitchen, which has a facility on East 11th Street. The Times Free Press has covered the program for which UGM is a staffing donor. The program requires men, women and children to be in by 7 p.m. and out by 6 a.m.

The Mission supplies two men to oversee and assist these needy people. We started this service Nov. 1 and it will be open every night through March.

For over 60 years now it has continued to provide services for the homeless and needy in Chattanooga and the tri-state area, at no cost to our city, county, state, or federal government. In more than 60-plus years we have provided well over 2 million meals and well over a million safe nights of sleep.

Through no fault of our staff or clients, we found ourselves out of a facility to operate in back in 2008. For the next year and a half we were a “homeless” homeless organization, operating out of some space that the Salvation Army so generously made available and renting a location for six months on Holtzclaw Ave.

When we finally got settled it was in a location that was not suitable for our “overnight” shelter, but we continued to provide our GRACE discipleship program for the homeless of Chattanooga that were struggling with life-controlling issues such as drug addiction and alcoholism. The City of Chattanooga was kind enough to repay our 60-year history of taking care of what many would consider the city’s most undesirable residents — by threatening to file a lawsuit against us.

The Union Gospel Mission is still trying to find the opportunity to reopen an “overnight” or “emergency” shelter. We still have the beds, kitchen equipment, and infrastructure to operate a shelter at a moment’s notice. What we don’t have is a facility/building in which to operate our shelter.

The blockade that has kept closed our emergency shelter has been a continuing distress since we were forced to close the 100+ beds we had been offering. Because we felt it so important for the past 3 or 4 years, the Union Gospel Mission has worked in partnership with the Community Kitchen to offer “emergency” shelter on the coldest nights. The Kitchen would open its floor space and Union Gospel Mission would provide the staffing for these “emergency weather” nights.

This year when the Community Kitchen mentioned a full-time winter shelter we were thrilled to have the opportunity to make that happen. Providing winter shelter for the homeless of Chattanooga has turned out to be a great partnership in Christian welfare.

For more information you can visit www.theuniongospelmission.org. — JON RECTOR, director

December 15, 2011 at 1:59 p.m.
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