IF YOU GO
* What: Grateful Gobbler Walk
* When: 8 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. Activities start at 7:30 a.m.
* Where: Coolidge Park
* Registration fee: $25 for adults, $10 for children under age 12. Participants who register by Nov. 16 are guaranteed a T-shirt. Proceeds benefit the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition.
Early registration is available online at www.gratefulgobbler.com.
Sometimes Tammy Smith lives in shelters. Sometimes she lives in one-room apartments where roaches fall from the ceiling and gopher rats jump out of drawers.
She's been hit and almost raped when a man dragged her from one side of 11th Street to the other because he wanted oral sex. He left her alone when he noticed her teeth. Many were missing and others had turned black and gray. Smith told him she had gonorrhea of the mouth.
"We live hard," she said.
This Thanksgiving morning thousands of people will gather in Coolidge Park with a heart to help people like Smith by participating in the 13th annual Grateful Gobbler Walk, a fundraiser hosted by the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition.
"It absolutely makes a difference," said Betsy McCright, executive director of the Chattanooga Housing Authority and co-chairwoman of the walk. "These funds go directly to serve homeless people."
The goal is to raise $100,000.
McCright and Theresa Biggs, with the housing authority's Housing Choice Voucher Program, are so committed to promoting the Gobbler Walk that they dressed in turkey costumes Friday at the Fork & Pie Bar. The Fork & Pie is contributing to the walk by creating a Grateful Gobbler Pie and donating a portion of the proceeds from that pie to the fundraiser.
The housing authority works with homeless people every day and knows the needs are great, McCright said.
The exclusive purpose of this fund is to help people who are homeless get the housing they need, said McCright.
In 2011, proceeds from the walk helped more than 200 people get housing, transportation and case management services.
Yet the help never seems to equal the need.
People who remain on the street lying on concrete, wrapped in blankets and sleeping against buildings for warmth say they've heard about the walk but that it hasn't helped them.
"We're not provided what we need. We're provided what they want to give us," said John Killgore, who has been homeless for seven years.
About 28,000 people have walked since the event started in 2000, raising more than $530,500 in donations. Event sponsors have contributed more than $197,000.
Kim Coulter of Lookout Mountain has braved cold mornings to attend the event in each of the past five years. This year she is co-chairwoman.
"I wound up falling in love with the cause," she said. "What a way to contribute by helping the homeless population."
She said her goal is to make the walk a family event and to give back to the community on Thanksgiving Day.
The most effective way to help homeless people is to give them a job, said David Oliphant, who is looking for work.
Homeless people also need shelter, said Suzzi Harper.
"There are people sleeping on the roadside and they have all of these empty buildings in Chattanooga," Harper said. "There's something wrong with that picture."
"Sleeping up against a building," she said, "is the scariest thing I've ever done."
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 ...