By MARK MCGEE
If you are looking for a shopping cart, then you might try the banks of the Duck River.
Within sight of the Shelbyville square approximately five encampments for homeless people have been cleared, but the debris remains, including shopping carts, bags of clothing, tents, mattresses, tables, drug paraphernalia, propane cans, and other trash of all sorts.
Shelbyville City Council member Bobby Turnbow has been receiving complaints from his constituents in Ward Six, the Southside of town, and showed the Post various camps that had been abandoned along the Duck River.
“These are in a half-a-mile of the square,” Turnbow said. “They just leave their trash and shopping carts. It is awful.”
Everyone concerned talks about the four categories of the homeless situation – those who are there due to unfortunate situational circumstances, such as those facing job loss or illness while wanting to find a permanent home; the mentally ill; drug addicts; and those who prefer to be homeless. Officials in most municipalities are struggling with how to deal with the overall population and most are finding it difficult to formulate answers.
Shelbyville City Manager Scott Collins has also viewed some of the camps along the Duck River. He is working with the Joint Homeless Task Force in Bedford County to try to develop some ways to deal with the situation.
Drew Hooker, Bedford County Commissioner and leader of the Joint Homelessness Task Force, praised Shelbyville Mayor Randy Carroll, Collins, and the Shelbyville City Council for their willingness to help in the development of solutions.
“We are working on recommendations to the city,” Hooker said. “The city is working on the legal side on recommendations that could work, such as some limitations on camping, loitering, and also aggressive panhandling.
“Mayor Carroll and the City Council have been very understanding in knowing about the problems and being open to the task force recommendations. We have had productive conversations with Mayor Carroll to try to start the process on some of these items. He has been extremely helpful.”
Collins adds the task force recommendations are in step with what the city wants to do.
“Our number one priority it to help people who want to be helped and get them back on their feet,” Collins said. “Number two is to protect our private property. And number three is to keep the area clean once the people have been removed.
“We cannot let those who want to choose living the nomad life to have so much of an impact on the city and county. There is a major amount of debris they leave behind when they move.”
Collins said there are no funds for a massive clean-up and getting equipment into the sites is difficult.
“We met a couple of weeks ago about it,” Collins said. “You have to figure out a way to do it without putting our people at risk. There is so much there and in some places the underbrush is so thick. There is no easy way to get into those places.”
There are challenges to developing and implementing solutions to the homeless situation. A joint effort is needed and the goal of the Joint Homeless Task Force is to unite all parties in a support hub.
Solutions and help
The Joint Homeless Task Force started meeting in February of 2023. Hooker had listened to concerns from those in the business district on and around the square, some of the churches and residents who live on the square.
He is aware people have big concerns about the safety issues with families, kayakers, and fishing boats spending time around Fisherman’s Park sometimes close to these homeless camps.
Hooker started the task force in response to all of those concerns.
“We have been extremely successful with strong turnouts every time we meet,” Hooker said. “We meet monthly and 30 to 35 people regularly come to the meetings from a public standpoint.”
Toby Snead, a former resident of Rutherford County who has moved to Bedford County, has provided major insight into the local homeless problem.
“He has been instrumental in helping Rutherford County head toward solutions,” Hooker said. “He is helping us and he has been a breath of fresh air.
“He is a very knowledgeable young man. He has a lot of ideas that have been proven to work in Rutherford County. I am very proud of the work he has done.”
One of the projects Snead is helping with is the implementation of a Point-In-Time (PIT) Count. It is designed to provide an idea of the number of homeless people in the area, usually on a given night.
“We have three categories – the homeless living in the camping areas…people truly outside of a residence, people living on someone’s couch, and long-term homeless people who live in a hotel,” Hooker said. “They are hard to keep track of. We don’t have a good way of identifying them.”
The goal is to not only provide a count but to identify whose these individuals are and be able to help them in terms of medical care and help them in dealing with situations where they have encounters with law enforcement or public safety entities.
“More importantly it will give the community an idea of how big this is,” Hooker said. “It will also allow us to apply for some grants focused on this. Until we get hard data it is difficult for us to really gauge what the situation is.”
The work of the task force is going to be a continuing process. Members will be looking at the problem and determining a plan piece-by-piece.
“We want to help transition these individuals from homelessness to a home,” Hooker said. “Some of it is going to work. Some of it is not going to work.
“For some of these individuals it is not their desire to have a home. What we are trying to do is at least lessen the impact. But as I told the group this is a marathon. This has been an issue for many years of things that have led to this. It didn’t happen overnight. It won’t be resolved overnight.”
One thing those involved in finding solutions must remember is the homeless are people.
“Number one, we have to make sure we understand it is humans we are dealing with”, Hooker said. “They have people who love them and people who know them. We want to make sure we are doing right by them.”