Opinion: This Thanksgiving, it’s not enough to be thankful. Offer your help.

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Jon Rector and members with The Union Gospel Mission hand out coffee and sack lunches outside the Budgetel on Wednesday, November 16, 2022. After being told to leave the building by early Wednesday morning, many residents of the Budgetel in East Ridge begin packing their belongings. The building was said to be shut down due to high crime.

It's Thanksgiving in Chattanooga, and we've just had 700 people tossed out into the cold.

How do we, as a community, do better than this?

Thoughts and prayers? Some coins and stray dollars in a outstretched cup or pot while a bell rings on a sidewalk? Certainly. But it's time to stretch our thinking.

Once again in the last week, we were reminded of just how tenuous lives are for too many of our neighbors. We watched in real time as East Ridge and the Hamilton County district attorney ousted at least 700 people from the Budgetel near the intersection of Interstates 75 and 24.

With a court order alleging crime and nuisance, police gave people living there hours to get out. Yes, it's technically a hotel, but people were living there where water, power, heat and air were included in the $270-to-$300-a-week rent. Think that's high? It is. But in this region housing is anything but affordable. Worse still, it's scarce.

We'll talk more about the "why" of this Budgetel debacle this weekend. But today, we want to talk Thanksgiving. And about fixes.

That means thinking about connections. Thinking about family. The family of us.

All of us.

Already, we -- ordinary people -- have given their time and some treasure toward helping.

It wont be nearly enough.

On Monday, Homeless Coalition Director Mike Smith told the Times Free Press that his agency had placed 62 children and 92 adults in other hotel rooms as temporary housing. Out of 700.

It was paid for with a $50,000 emergency grant from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, which the coalition will have to reimburse.

Thankfully, individuals had given just over $40,000 to help. But with $1,000-a-month rents being the very cheap norm these days, you can see we're nowhere near helping 700 people.

Think about it. What would it cost to help feed 700 people -- families, including 170 children -- while they have no kitchen? What's more, what would it cost to put a roof over the heads of 700 people? Not to mention the already 1,000 or so people in Chattanooga who are homeless on any given day.

"We've been inundated with calls," said Baron King, CEO of the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, now called Chatt Foundation, short for Center for Homeless Advancement for Today and Tomorrow.

"A number of those families were able to shelter in a warm indoor environment [while overnight temperatures were below 35 and the Kitchen opened its doors at night].

But even then, he said, "We just have mats. We don't have cots or beds for folks. We are not a full-time shelter here on 11th Street. It's not a great option. It will keep people alive. It will keep people safe. But it's definitely very spartan."

There's more at play here, however, than a lack of shelter, or even than just how much money we can contribute to help our neighbors.

We must demand that our leaders act like leaders. We must demand that they understand that homelessness and insecurity don't stop at city, county or state borders.

An action taken in East Ridge (or it could be Red Bank or Rossville or anywhere in our region) by a county district attorney and county judge has repercussions for Chattanooga (or Red Bank or -- pick a city).

What's wrong with a little communication? What's wrong with a heads-up for planning and coordination purposes?

What's wrong with thinking about big issues -- like 700 people suddenly being made homeless -- with a regional mindset toward problem solving?

Today as we gather with our families and friends, let's give thanks for and to the groups, churches and individuals who've already stepped up.

Let's give thanks for Chattanooga's focus on helping with homelessness.

But more importantly, let's give our own help. Let's open our hearts.

And let's encourage -- even demand -- that the leaders elsewhere in our region step up as well. Not just for the 700 made homeless a week before Thanksgiving, but also the 1,000 people who already have been counted as homeless here on any given night.