How the United Way works to address homelessness

Matthew Lane • Jan 26, 2019 at 7:00 PM

KINGSPORT — For more than a year, the United Way of Greater Kingsport has been bringing nonprofits, community leaders and faith-based organizations to the table to see what’s being done — and what more could be done — to address the homeless situation in the Model City.

It’s being done to make sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing and so these organizations can better leverage the services and skills they have in the hope of making more of a difference.

“When we bring them together, they’re more powerful and coordinated,” said Becca Sutphen, director of community impact at the United Way.


This coordinated gathering of stakeholders is called the Kingsport Housing Network by the United Way and its been meeting every other month since the end of 2017. Naturally, attendees have been discussing the homeless problem, the root causes and possible solutions, but the directors and program managers of the various organizations have had more face time with their counterparts.

“We’re trying to be able to determine what the best solutions are that will not just put someone in a building, but help them truly turn their lives around,” Sutphen said.

The UWGK allocates more than $1.1 million each year to local programs and initiatives that promote self-sufficiency and ensure the health, safety and stability of every person in Kingsport.

Funding goes to the Kingsport Salvation Army, Hope Haven Ministries and Family Promise of Greater Kingsport, as well as the cross-sector Life BRIDGE Initiative. Here’s a quick summary of how each helps the homeless:


- The Salvation Army offers case management, employment assistance and assistance in securing income for stability. Its emergency shelter is open 365 days a year and includes one 15-bed dorm for males and one 10-bed dorm for females.

- Hope Haven provides a temporary shelter for women and children and another temporary shelter for men. In the past five years, the ministry has helped 174 homeless individuals find employment and 212 move from the program into their own housing.

- Family Promise of Greater Kingsport is one source of Rapid Rehousing Assistance, which is designed to help individuals and families in immediate need of housing with a deposit and first month’s rent. In the past three months, the program has helped 15 people/families find housing.

- Life BRIDGE is a life-coaching program that assists people with the development of essential life skills that are necessary to achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency. Classes include individual coaching, career development, interview skills, job search assistance, computer training and financial management education.


According to a homeless census of Kingsport, conducted in January 2018, there were 40 people residing in temporary housing (up to 2 years), 21 adults who were unsheltered (i.e., living on the street or in an unsuitable living situation) and 51 adults and children staying in emergency shelters.

Another census was conducted throughout the Tri-Cities last week, but the results will not be known for a couple of months.

The United Way estimates that each chronically homeless person costs the community $35,000 to $40,000 per year.

Sutphen said the United Way feels there’s a rising momentum building up within the community to do something more to address the homeless situation. One topic being explored is a day center, where the homeless could go at certain times of the day — to store their belongings, to act as an address for mail and as a place to go during inclement weather.

Johnson City has a day center, and Bristol is currently exploring the idea of establishing one.

“The more we can bring different perspectives to the table that really want to help this issue, I think the more creative our solutions are going to be,” Sutphen said.

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