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BY THE NUMBERS

4,000 - People in the Chattanooga area who experience homelessness in a year

1,000 - Homeless children included among the 4,000 counted homeless in a year

670 - People who are chronically homeless

1,400 - Units of permanent housing recommended to be built for the homeless by 2014.

$7.3 million - Annual amount the Chattanooga area spends on emergency and transitional services, shelter and housing for homeless people

Source: "The Blueprint to End Chronic Homelessness in the Chattanooga Region in Ten Years"

FOR MORE INFORMATION

House of All Souls - Call Ron Fender at 756-4222

Chronic homelessness - www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/1623

After sleeping in shelters and living on the streets, Philip Fuller says his East Chattanooga home off Chamberlain Avenue is a "starter heaven."

"No rats, no roaches, no bugs. This is paradise," said Mr. Fuller, an autistic 27-year-old man who was chronically homeless before moving into the house this year.

There is no eye contact when he talks. He holds his head low and looks down and sideways, but his words are descriptive and precise.

"This is a Christian home," he said. "We are a family."

Mr. Fuller is one of six men who live in the House of All Souls, a group residence for chronically homeless men that's tucked away in the tall trees and high hills of East Chattanooga.

All have been labeled chronically homeless, which means the records that follow them from agency to agency show that they've been homeless for at least a year or they have been homeless three or more times in the past four years.

All Souls' woodframe house is a pleasant beige-yellow with a screened-in back porch overlooking a neatly cut yard with deep purple flowers, a bird feeder and tomato plants.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $154,285 to Chattanooga's Rosewood Supportive Services to provide social services to the men in the home, which opened in March, about four months before the grant arrived.

Through Rosewood, which provides nonmedical care to the elderly, disabled or sick, the money will be used to provide the men with such services as Friday night dining out, transportation, recreational activities, shopping and assistance in paying bills and keeping medical appointments.

The money is part of $2 million doled out in July to Tennessee agencies assisting the homeless.

House of All Souls is the vision of Ron Fender, a 55-year-old Gregorian monk of the Brotherhood of St. Gregory. He lived in a Massachusetts monastery a year before coming to Chattanooga in 2002 to work as the Community Kitchen's outreach case manager.

He's a big man, tall with dark hair and a round belly dressed in dark pants and white shirt. No white robes or tassels. The only giveaway that he might be a monk is that he lives in poverty in a house with other homeless men by choice.

He said he wanted to provide a permanent home for homeless men that offered the same type of community he experienced in the monastery.

"This is a community of brothers living together and sharing their lives," said Mr. Fender.

The common bond is that, in some way, all the men have been broken and the house is a place of healing, Mr. Fender said.

Another bond is that all the men in the home are mentally or physically disabled.

CHRONIC HOMELESSNESS

Housing the chronically homeless may be a challenge, but not housing them will create a financial strain on social services, according to a fact sheet on chronic homelessness published by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Chronically homeless people use up more than 50 percent of the resources annually available to homeless people, the Washington, D.C.-based alliance reports.

The majority of people in single-adult shelter enter the homeless system only once or twice, stay about a month and never return, the alliance says, but about 10 percent come twice a year and stay 280 days per stay when they come.

And when not at the shelter, they recycle through hospitals, jails, and other institutional care facilities before they end up at the shelter again, according the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

A homeless person who is also disabled in some way makes it even more challenging to house a person, said Kimberly George, community relations director for the Chattanooga Salvation Army chapter.

"Chattanooga does not have enough housing for the homeless in general," she said. "It becomes increasingly difficult when trying to house families and those who are mentally and physically disabled."

Many shelters aren't equipped to administer medications that a disabled client may need, she said.

Being homeless also may contribute to some people's mental illness, said Dr. Darlene Jenkins, research director for the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

"We're finding more homeless families because of the foreclosure crisis," she said. "That can cause mental health challenges. Instability can effect the mental well being of even a child if you're living in a car and you don't know where your next meal is coming from."

A 2007 survey of 23 cities conducted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors revealed that 30 percent of the homeless population have a mental illness.

In the Chattanooga area, about 4,000 people a year experience homelessness, according to The Blueprint to End Chronic Homelessness in the Chattanooga Region in Ten Years, a study conducted by the city.

In his first campaign, Mayor Ron Littlefield ran on a platform that included finding new and more-efficient ways to house the homeless. He proposed a central location for a shelter and for the city's homeless services department, but it hasn't been built.

"Do we need shelter? Yes we do, but we never posed building it," said Richard Beeland, spokesperson for the mayor.

The House of All Souls "is a perfect example" of how government money can be used to provide housing for the homeless.

ALL SOULS

After hearing Mr. Fender's idea for the home, Rosewood Supportive Services found grant money to build the home.

Located in the 2400 block of McCrae Street, it was built with a $450,000 grant from the Federal Secured Home Loan Bank, said Geoffrey G. Young, an attorney with Miller & Martin and board chairman for Rosewood. The money was enough to build the house and have some funding remaining for operating expenses, he said.

The city of Chattanooga also contributed $90,000 to the house, according to Sandra Gober, the city's manager of Neighborhood Services and Community Development.

The Chattanooga Community Kitchen is responsible for the programing of the house, providing the scheduled times of cooking, cleaning and recreational activities.

"The goal is to give them a family environment and opportunity to become involved in the community," Mr. Fender said. "The structure is what we give to the men to help them participate in the life of the house."

The house provides an instant community for a person battling homelessness so that he doesn't have to lose the companionship he may find in a shelter when he goes to live in a permanent home.

"It's a quiet place where it's safe," said Mr. Fender, standing on the front porch near a decorative fountain bubbling with streams of running water.

At the House of All Souls, the men's disabilities range from stroke, congestive heart failure, post traumatic stress disorder and diabetes to autism and mental illness.

The house is the first home 58-year-old Earl Tabor lived in two decades. He slept under a bridge before coming to live at All Souls and said he hasn't held a job in seven years.

"I'd get a job, get a trailer, start drinking and lose the job," said Mr. Tabor, a slender, shy man who is disabled with emphysema.

He said he came to the house because he was "tired of sleeping under a bridge, out there in the winter and the summer."

Staying in the home is voluntary and two of the men who first moved in have left. One got married. The other, after living there for about three months, wanted to try living on his own.

The men are free to come and go as they please, Mr. Fender said. The house will hold up to nine men, but all who come must be chronically homeless.

The men ask if the place is real, since most housing provided for them is temporary, Mr. Fender said. Homeless people in a halfway house may get to stay up to two years, but there is always an exit date.

In comparison, the usual length of time of stay is about 28 days for a homeless person at the St. Matthew's Shelter. Those in drug and alcohol rehab also stay about 28 days in most treatment centers.

At the House of All Souls, the men may stay as long as they like, Mr. Fender said.

The house rules are that they must respect a quiet time from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. when there can be no loud noises. Everyone must contribute to household goods such as toiletries and groceries. Most of the men have some source of income. Two of them work part time jobs and most of them receive a disability check.

No one is allowed to go uninvited into anyone else's room.

The men may come and go as they please as long as someone knows when they're leaving and when they plan to return. There can be no disruptive behavior. No drugs or alcohol.

"This is a family," Mr. Fender said. "It has the same rules that any other peaceful household would have."

PDF: The Blueprint to End Homelessness in the Chattanooga Region

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Hard like Nails?

Article: Homeless outreach worker shares insight on traveling youths

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