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Knoxville's homeless count remains higher than 10-year average

An annual single-day count of people experiencing homelessness in Knoxville dropped by 20% in the past year, but remained higher than the average count for the past ten years, according to a report from Knoxville-Knox County Office of Housing Stability. One of the reasons for the year-over-year decline was a reduction in federal funding to shelter people in hotels.

County officials chose a single January night to collect data, and recorded a total of 925 people living in sheltered and unsheltered situations, compared with 1,178 people in 2022. The study points out that the cumulative number is much larger than the single snapshot.

"We know almost certainly the actual number is higher,” said Erin Read, the executive director of the Knoxville-Knox County Office of Stability. “We also compare point in time count numbers with other measures. One of the best other measures is the average number of people who are accessing homeless services every day.”

More than 1,800 people make use of homelessness services on a daily basis, according to the Knox Community Dashboard on Homelessness. About 750 of those are experiencing homelessness for the first time. About 65% of newly unhoused people said housing affordability was one of the main reasons for their homelessness.

Read said the rise in rent and home prices, and pandemic-era disruptions, contributed to the spike in homelessness.

“It's taking longer for people to find housing, so they are remaining homeless for longer,” she said.

The median time spent in homelessness in the second quarter of 2023 was 182 days, an increase of 40% since the last quarter of 2021.

“We are all starting to recognize how tight housing is,” said Nate First, the director of the Homeless Management Information System of Knoxville and Knox County. “Imagine how much tighter it is for folks without reliable or sufficient funding, or with other vulnerabilities, trying to compete in that same market.”

The East Tennessee Realtors reported last month that home prices and rent continue to outpace the national average, while housing inventory in East Tennessee is down about 7% from a year ago.

This week, city council leaders approved a measure that calls on Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon’s administration to work with the planning commission and the Community Development Corporation to incentivize mixed-use development along major corridors, like Chapman Highway and Kingston Pike. In an August interview, Mayor Kincannon told WUOT that one of her second-term priorities is to address housing affordability.

Of those who entered permanent housing, the retention rate was 93%, a slightly higher rate from 2021. The Office of Housing Stability reports that 3,908 individuals have been housed since 2020.

The report also recorded 68 homeless individuals between the ages of 18 and 24; that included those who are couch-surfing. Two-thirds of the youth reported a history of domestic violence, and nearly four out of five reported experiencing mental health issues.

The Knoxville Knox County Continuum of Care, with help from the youth action board, recently received a 2-year, $1.8 million federal grant to help homeless youth find housing. The youth action board is a subcommittee of the coalition made up of local youth with experiences of homelessness. Knoxville was one of 16 communities throughout the nation that received the grant.

Jacqui was born and raised in Pittsburgh. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2021 with a bachelor’s in communications. Outside of work, she likes to go to baseball games, walk dogs at her local animal shelter, and hike.