The idea to create a low barrier shelter for people experiencing homelessness is a good idea. Why? Because it offers resources for people at risk, are vulnerable or in crisis.
Having a bus stop in our city is a good idea. Why? So people can travel around the region or country in an affordable mode of transportation.
City officials appear to believe that we must choose between the two.
The city recently announced plans to put a low barrier shelter on East 12th Street — the same location as a Greyhound bus shelter that operated there for years on property owned by CARTA.
Then just about two weeks ago, Greyhound moved out of the East 12th Street location after the city gave it a 30-day notice.
"This relocation became necessary as the city of Chattanooga has unveiled a repurposing plan for the previous location on East 12th Street, which would have impacted Greyhound's ability to continue providing bus service at this location," according to a Nov. 8 statement from Greyhound.
The hub provided bus rides to an average of 1,000 passengers monthly, according to Greyhound. Some of those users now will be deprived of transportation.
What we know is that 30-days' notice is inadequate. Finding a new location for a bus transit facility is a tall order and one that takes planning. Furthermore, it seems our transportation experts missed an opportunity for a more innovative approach since CARTA, which rented the space to Greyhound, apparently didn't collaborate with the bus company in a way that could have kept it in the city and accessible to more people. CARTA plans to sell its property to the city for the low barrier shelter.
Greyhound will operate out of a truck stop in Wildwood, Ga.
Where was the planning in this? We should not accept hasty, incomplete city planning that ends up sending a key resource such as affordable transportation across the state line.
Lead with facts and consistency
Gossip and speculation that busloads of people experiencing homelessness are being brought here have persisted for at least a couple of years. What is disappointing is that many in the community have bought into the rumor mill.
Clearly, there have been pointed messages from City Hall and Mayor Tim Kelly about solving the homelessness issue.
"But more people keep coming," Kelly said in August about affordable housing and homelessness. "And frankly, we don't know whether they're being evicted from current housing or if they are coming here from elsewhere, which we are currently looking into."
In a Nov. 16 Times Free Press report, Kevin Roig, Kelly's chief of staff, said that there was a problem with people experiencing homelessness at the Greyhound bus hub.
"That location's proximity to existing homeless service providers is not conducive to the community's or the city's desire to maintain a vigilant posture against the trafficking of unsheltered people being sent here from other places showing up on Chattanooga's doorstep," Roig said.
Even police officers witnessed this happening, he said.
"Police and the mayor separately have witnessed multiple disembarkations with passengers leaving on foot with their bags, apparently making their way into our homeless services area," he said.
In a Nov. 19 interview, Roig was asked about the rumor of a bus from the Hamilton County jail dropping off homeless individuals in front of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
"That is not something that is actively happening, nor are we claiming that that is a thing that is actively happening," Roig said in a video interview. "It's a thing in the ether that people say, but we have tried to ... run down receipts and corroborate it and substantiate it, and we have not been able to do that."
Over the past three months, the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition and its partners have asked 1,226 people experiencing homelessness if they have lived in the greater Chattanooga area for one year or more. Of those, 1,069 said yes, according to data reviewed by the Times Free Press.
There's too much "he said, she said" surrounding the claims of unsheltered people being sent here from outside of the county. It's an even more serious claim to say that people experiencing homelessness are being trafficked here. It should be the city's goal to ensure that they use facts to lead their efforts to provide shelter for vulnerable people.
Be about change
People experiencing homelessness are not asking for anything more than what the rest of the community desires. They want to have a place to lay their heads at night, a place where they can feel safe.
They want a place to call home, however that looks to them.
We applaud the plans for the low barrier shelter that will be near CHATT Foundation, where people can wash their clothes and get a warm meal.
It was Kelly's administration that launched the One Chattanooga movement, an initiative that seeks to address the inequities of our city.
It will be hard to live up to that name and its purpose when we take away a lifeline for people as a result of a rushed plan and spurious gossip.