Local social service workers who aid the homeless community are grieving after a longtime homeless man was found dead inside a tent near the Chattanooga Rescue Mission.
James (Jimmy) Loomis' body was found Thursday morning, according to a case worker with the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, who had worked with Loomis. Loomis was 63 and the cause of death is unknown at this time.
For years, Loomis, who was chronically homeless and on disability for a back injury years ago, had called the Rescue Mission home, said Anna Kat Horne, the stability navigator at Metropolitan Ministries on McCallie Avenue.
She, along with Mark Williams at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, had been working with Loomis in recent months to help him transition to a permanent housing program.
In January, Loomis was mugged and came to Metropolitan Ministries for help replacing his dentures, which had been stolen. Horne found some local donors and pulled funds from Metropolitan Ministries to pay half the cost of new dentures. Loomis paid the remaining amount.
"He was ashamed of his smile," she said. "He cracked jokes all the time. So to smile proudly was important to him. He was one of the jolliest people I have met."
Horne said Loomis was so grateful for the help in securing new dentures that he would stop by the ministry every day on his way to the Rescue Mission to water the community garden and check on Horne. He wanted to make sure her car was working OK, she said, drink a glass of water and just talk about life.
He told her that he had been in love with a woman who passed away and couldn't get over it. He also told Horne he had once worked on race cars as a mechanic. He never told her how he had ended up homeless and separated from family and friends.
Horne said, as far as anyone knows, Loomis had no one in his life to care for him or worry about him.
A few weeks ago, Loomis was mugged again in downtown Chattanooga while fishing under a bridge and was severely beaten, she said. When he left the hospital, Loomis called Horne and told her that he had gone to the Rescue Mission one night but was asked to leave after he got into an argument with staffers over the length of his shower. He told her he was going to pitch a tent under a building nearby, but wouldn't tell Horne where.
He could have returned the next night, but he told Williams that he was no longer happy with the rescue mission's policies.
Horne tried to find him to bring him food, but wasn't successful in locating him. The last time she talked to him, she said she remembers him sounding very defeated.
Meanwhile, Williams at the Community Kitchen was able to find him a spot in a program that offered permanent housing to disabled homeless men. Both Williams and Horne were desperate to find him and tell him the good news, but still couldn't locate him.
Then Friday both Williams and Horne were told his body had been taken to the Hamilton County Homeless Health Care.
Loomis had told Williams that, in the case of an emergency, that there was no one for anyone to call, Williams said.
"It is a long process to get a chronically homeless person into housing," Williams said. "It can become very discouraging. And for Jimmy it took too long. He might have still died last Thursday, but if the process was quicker he wouldn't have died on the streets. He would have died in his own bedroom, in his own bed."
Horne said she cried for an hour after hearing the news, knowing that so few people would ever know or care, knowing he would never get a funeral or a proper burial.
"We are responsible to and for Jimmy and we are responsible to and for each other," she said. "We all should matter to each other because we share the same community. That is enough of a bond. These things should not go unnoticed, regardless of how much money a person has."
To honor Loomis and his life, Horne said Metropolitan Ministries hopes to hold a memorial gathering on Wednesday afternoon.
"People die every day and that isn't a surprise, but this kind of death is particularly tragic because it goes largely unnoticed. These people's lives matter, and somebody has got to say that," she said. "I feel very privileged to have known Jimmy and I will remember him as a very joyful person. I know he had friends. I don't know who they were, but I know some of them worked at Metropolitan Ministries."