published Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Chattanooga: Community Kitchen decides not to open shelter

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    Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Members of Chattanooga's homeless community board a bus for a shelter Friday afternoon. The Community Kitchen, which will open its doors to the homeless under certain conditions, will not be opening tonight.

Nick Keller was among 63 men and 14 women who stayed out of the subfreezing temperatures early Friday by sleeping on mats inside the Chattanooga Community Kitchen.

But with temperatures again expected to dip into the 20s early today and tonight, the outreach staff at the homeless health center decided Friday afternoon against keeping the downtown facility open another couple of nights.

With other overnight shelters full, the Community Kitchen has already stayed open 31 nights this winter -- eight days longer than a year ago -- to provide emergency shelter when wintry weather threatens the hundreds of Chattanoogans who sleep under bridges, loading docks and bushes.

But Keller, a 52-year-old former mechanic who suffers from diabetes and high cholesterol, said homeless Chattanoogans like himself need a place to stay when the mercury dips below freezing.

"It's inhumane not to open on a night like this," Keller said Friday night while preparing to sleep outside in the cold. "They need to be open."

The cold weather highlights the problem of finding shelter for many of Chattanooga's homeless men downtown, especially since the closing two years ago of the Union Gospel Mission shelter and the relocation of the Chattanooga Rescue Mission.

The Community Kitchen served a record 180,000 meals to low-income and homeless Chattanoogans last year and offers a variety of counseling, job training and drug treatment services. But other than opening up its doors during severe weather, the Kitchen is not a shelter.

"The decision about whether we stay open at night, which is governed by health considerations determined by others, is not a matter of comfort but of safety," Community Kitchen spokesman Jens Christensen said.

The only known case of a homeless man dying outside this winter occurred just after Christmas on a snowy night when the Community Kitchen was open as an emergency shelter, according to outreach coordinator Ron Fender.

The Salvation Army opens its downtown shelter to women and children and the Chattanooga Rescue Mission provides both long-term and emergency shelter for men and women at its Holtzclaw Avenue facility.

But Donald Baer, director of administration and chaplaincy services at the Rescue Mission, said the 80 beds in his shelter frequently fill up and some people have to be turned away, especially men seeking emergency shelter.

"We could certainly use more space, and we're hoping within a couple of years that we can open up the third floor of our building here to expand our capacity to 100 beds," Baer said.

So far this winter, 438 people have stayed at least one night on one of the mats laid out on the Community Kitchen floor when the 11th Street facility opens at night.

"Without us, a lot more people would be left out in the cold," said Charlie Hughes, executive director for the Community Kitchen. "But there is a need for more emergency shelters."

On the very site where many homeless camped out Friday night, Mayor Ron Littlefield had proposed building a homeless complex across from the Community Kitchen. That project has stalled, however, over environmental, neighborhood and economic concerns.

Nicky Wade, 49, hauls his sleeping bag, nine different medicines and life possessions on his wheelchair on the site once targeted for the city homeless complex.

"It's cold, but compared to some nights it's a breeze," he said.

Homeless advocates and sympathizers are planning a march from noon to 2 p.m. on March 4 to call attention to the plight of the homeless and to lift up the more than two dozen homeless persons in Chattanooga they say have died in the past year, according to march organizer Tobiah Tillman of Chattanooga Organized for Action.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/chattreporter.

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dendod said...

I believe the mayor has the blood of the homeless who have died because of his lack of action on his hands. How Ron Littlefield can sleep at night is a mystery to me.

February 12, 2011 at 8:03 a.m.
HannaBeckman said...

dendod, so why do'nt you take in a bus load of homeless in your house, feed them bath them ,etc. Get off your high horse and do something yourself, if this situation bothers you. If you do'nt take action yourself, SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!!!!

February 12, 2011 at 9:17 a.m.
Allison12 said...

HannaBeckman, must be part of that silly group that finally decided to show up at a council meeting, and thinks they are the drivers for community involvement when Ron Fender has been working on the homeless issue legitimately. My only question to this group, Chattanooga Organized for Action that rallies every weekend on a different cause, is where were you on the big issues? You were noticeably absent. Funny notion, to believe that rallies determine outcomes,got not City Hall?

February 12, 2011 at 9:42 a.m.
ms_Staceytn said...

unless you have been homeless then you dont have a clue to the truth COFA is tryin to help get the truth out there and tryin to bring real help to those in need and the truth to those who dont see it or dont know help is needed everyone is a paycheck away from being homeless and once that happens they r looked down at with littl help or options to better themselves so stop and really see whats going on instead of blaming someone or looking to keep from gettin involved the homeless are people to and need help more then what they are getting now do you know someone on the streets or did the man well dressed hid well from the truth that passed you by not let you see he was without everything and sleepin under a bridge just tryin to survive another cold night in hopes things would change and get the help he truly needs

February 12, 2011 at 9:53 p.m.
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