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Officials seek help to fight homelessness in Johnson County

By Teresa Crowder
Freelance Writer

Homelessness is being without a home, a place to call your own, a place to lay your head at night, a place to be at peace with yourself, and a place to be safe.
Contributing factors such as family violence, job loss or unemployment, family and relationship breakdowns, drug and alcohol abuse, shortage of affordable housing, and not feeling safe at home are common threads associated with homelessness.
It does not discriminate and is a reality we simply cannot deny. It is here, in Johnson County, it has been here, and it is real.
Community members have been helping some homeless for years and know them by name. Shawna Buckner and Megan Stevens know, work with and care for the homeless in the county.
“They seem to come to us later in the evening, and we let them come in and get warm,” Buckner said. “We feed them and try to get them ready for the night. We have had some without shoes, others wrapped in a blanket with only a shirt and underwear on. They have been kicked out of most businesses, so they don’t have anywhere to go.”
The women have provided a place to get warm in the cold months, blankets, warm clothes, temporary shelter, food, and just someone to talk to. Simple gestures of caring and safety in a nonjudgmental environment.
Teresa Essick McElyea and her volunteer crew at Helping Others encounter the homeless almost daily. Some are regulars, but there are always new individuals and some families looking for any help they can get. Helping Others provides tangible items such as clothing, food, and other items to anyone who needs and asks.
McElyea often partners with Trish Burchette at the Action Coalition if someone asks for assistance and voluntarily seeks help for addiction. Recently, McElyea and Burchette partnered to help a young lady who came by Helping Others.
“This is a girl we’ve been trying to help for a while,” McElyea said. “Her sister brought her here today to ask for help. I called Trish and got her a place to go today to start detox.”
At the Action Coalition, Trish Pierce Burchette has also been an active agent working to achieve more community awareness and reprieve for those experiencing homelessness in the community.
“ACTION has tried to work toward a solution for this issue as stable housing is a huge protective factor against Substance Abuse Disorder,” she said. “Statistics show that as many as 40 percent of homeless also suffer from substance use and/or mental health issues. We have tried to organize a meeting in 2021 to work toward a solution, but there was not much interest in it. We also applied for a grant through ARCH to assist with homeless prevention but were not awarded the funds possibly due partly to lack of data on this issue.”
Community leaders such as Jerry Jordan and Mike Taylor have echoed the concern and efforts taken to undertake this challenge. “We have met with the Appalachian Regional Commission on Homelessness on two occasions to look at the county’s needs and a way to address them,” Taylor said. “I believe there’s hope to make a small homeless shelter sometime,” Jordan said. T
Some in the community (who wish to remain anonymous) have generously conveyed assistance by providing a location for establishing a homeless facility. Such individuals need assurance of the maintenance and support of the facility as a stipulation of their generosity.
This needed issue needs teamwork and local love.
Local community advocates and government officials agree that without the right kind of intervention or self-preservation comes the possibility of anything to numb the pain, often being alcohol, drugs, bad social decisions, anything to forget or stop the pain of feeling.
Unfortunately, friends or family may not want to intervene, do not know how, cannot understand, or simply are afraid.
Those who assist are cautious and have established trust with many of the homeless in the county. Such kindhearted individuals have a plan in place.
Those that desire to contribute time or donation may contact the ACTION coalition or Helping Others.
Please consider availability to help champion a solution to take care of the community and assist in some way to render this a solvable problem with sustainable efforts.