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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tents are seen at a homeless camp off of 11th Street on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The city is currently considering building a homeless encampment on 12th Street near Peeples Street.

Chattanooga is considering opening a supervised homeless encampment on 12th Street near Peeples Street to curb crime and litter in the area. The camp could be completed within weeks.

The project would aim to address homelessness at a time when almost 400 Hamilton County residents sleep on the streets every night, said Sam Wolfe, the city's director of homelessness and supportive housing. As wages decrease and rent rises, he said, the city has seen an increase in homelessness.

"Housing is the thing that solves homelessness," Wolfe said, adding that the area now only requires paving. "What this does is take some of the pressure off of people sleeping on the sidewalks every night."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga City Council unanimously approves hotel purchase)

The 12th and Peeples site is near the Community Kitchen, the Maclellan Shelter for Families and other organizations that help Chattanoogans.

Any new homeless encampment, which would be supervised by a nonprofit company, would amount to a tent city. Residents would have access to restrooms and other local services under the plan.

Council members discussed the idea this week and saw a presentation from Wolfe. Details such as which nonprofit group would run the campsite, how much it would cost and where the restrooms would be are not yet available.

Affordable housing has been a priority for Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly. The city's most recent data shows that 364 homeless individuals are without shelter, while 236 individuals have been able to find shelter.

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Sam Wolfe, the homeless program coordinator, gives details on the Interagency Council on Homeless following a signing ceremony Monday, March 19, 2018, at City Hall in Chattanooga, Tenn.

However, the capacity for local shelters also has decreased from 321 to 316, or 1.6%, since 2015, according to the city.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga to provide more hotel rooms in East Ridge for the homeless)

"We know the pandemic has caused a sharp uptick in homelessness across our city," Kelly said. "And while we're committed to long-term, housing-focused solutions, we also have to respond to this public health crisis immediately."

According to Kelly's administration, the city's priorities include:

— Connecting individuals with available housing units.

— Designing and constructing a safe, sanctioned and managed campsite.

— Creating additional housing units through incentives and education.

— Connecting individuals to care and services through real relationships.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga nonprofit growing in its mission to offer homes to dying homeless residents)

The potential site on 12th Street also could aid those who reside in the homeless camp near the railroad crossing on 11th Street, Wolfe said.

But finding the funding for such initiatives is the most important aspect of the city's efforts. Wolfe said it could be covered through funds the county and city have received through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

"It's not an impossible problem, it's an expensive problem," Wolfe said.

Late last month, the Chattanooga City Council unanimously approved a nearly $3 million purchase of a hotel on Lee Highway with plans to turn it into low-income housing.

The Airport Inn at 7725 Lee Highway, owned by Sunlight Inc., will be bought for an amount not to exceed $2.79 million, according to the resolution. The city will purchase the 74-room hotel with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Contact Logan Hullinger at lhullinger@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LoganHullinger.

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