Homeless people say they have no choice but to sleep or rest on public sidewalks and in the doorways of vacant stores: There aren't enough shelter beds for them. They have been banned from homeless camps located in hard-to-see places such as a hillside near U.S. Highway 27 and along the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. They have no place else to go.
"I don't want to live like this," said Tyler Edwards, a 19-year-old homeless high school dropout who was stretched out on the sidewalk under a tree. He hopes to get a caseworker, pass his GED and get a job.
Charlie Hughes, executive director of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, said his first priority is to get homeless people in permanent housing that the homeless-services organization has available before the end of the month.
Then, in September, he will meet with other organization decision-makers and focus on whether the Community Kitchen will operate its 24-hour cold weather shelter later this year.
That's just one of the issues Hughes has to work through in a tumultuous year. Three top staff members resigned or retired this year. Hughes, however, said remaining employees and volunteers will go a long way to filling needs in the short term.
The 24-hour shelter is endangered because the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition lost $75,000 in the city's proposed 2014 budget. The coalition in past years gave the money to the Community Kitchen to operate as a 24-hour shelter from November until the end of February, when winter weather is most severe.
City officials said the $75,000 was not allocated because no one requested it.
Hughes said the 11th Street facility has operated in years past without city funding.
"We've been doing it for all these years without anybody helping us, so it just gets to where you don't expect it," he said. "When it comes, you're grateful."
Jens Christensen, assistant director, said the shelter served an average of 120 people a night last winter.
"There was nowhere else for these people to turn," he said.
A 24-hour shelter would solve many problems concerning homelessness, Christensen said.
The kitchen feeds homeless people and provides clothing, health care and other services, but it doesn't regularly offer shelter.
Problems sometimes occur when the homeless people gather outside near the kitchen. They leave mats and mattresses in grass near city streets and create sanitation messes. Police are left to move them to another location.
Joan Evans lives in a home now but was homeless after her previous place was condemned because she could not afford repairs.
"How many places let homeless people use their bathroom?" she said. "There is no place to go."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@times freepress.com or 423-757-6431.