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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / A man pulls a suitcase as he bikes past tents that line 11th Street on Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

More than a dozen homeless individuals have moved into a sanctioned encampment organized by the city of Chattanooga and a local nonprofit.

On Friday, area residents began to move into the sanctioned, temporary homeless camp southeast of downtown. The Signal Mountain-based nonprofit Help Right Here is operating the camp, at 12th and Peeples streets.

Ann-Marie Fitzsimmons and Niki Keck, founders of Help Right Here, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press the camp had 13 residents, about half of them women. The camp is not accepting any more new residents until June. The group hopes to have around 30 residents by the end of June and up to 60 by August, they said.

"We're already seeing the residents take ownership," Keck said. "I was seeing them clean up, throw their own trash away. The outdoor kitchen is already cleaner than it was yesterday."

The group is modeling the sanctioned encampment after similar models operating in Seattle.

In a news release announcing the camp, Sam Wolfe, director of the Office of Homelessness and Supportive Housing for the city, said leaving homelessness is difficult when individuals do not have a secure environment for their possessions.

"By creating a secure location for these residents to live, we will speed their exits from homelessness and empower them to take the next step in their lives," Wolfe said in the statement.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Schools works to address rise in homeless students)

Homelessness throughout the region has jumped in the past two years, according to annual point-in-time counts. Data from the most recent count, released last month, showed a significant increase in homelessness across an 11-county region that includes Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie, Hamilton, Bledsoe, Rhea, Meigs, McMinn, Bradley and Polk counties.

Between 2021 and 2022, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the region increased from 1,217 to 3,084, according to the count of people with no shelter at all.

Similarly, Hamilton County Schools officials have raised concerns about a spike in homeless students. Of the 43,000 students who attend Hamilton County Schools, 2,000 of them are homeless, according to a student survey in which they report situations such as sleeping in temporary quarters such as a friend's house, according to data from the district.

(READ MORE: Report finds 75% of Chattanooga-area children live in struggling households)

People living in the encampment on 11th Street near the rail line are given priority for the sanctioned encampment, according to the news release. Individuals can apply for admission at the Community Kitchen or the Homeless Health Care Center, both of which are on 11th Street.

The residents of the camp near the rail line can apply for permanent housing through the Chattanooga Housing Authority, according to the news release.

Help Right Here is looking for donations of furniture, non-perishable food, camping equipment and blankets.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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