Knoxville City Council Candidates Offer Different Perspectives on Homelessness

Jul 10, 2019

Eleven Knoxville City Council candidates answer questions at a public forum, Tuesday, July 9, 2019. WATE’s Blake Stevens is the moderator.
Credit Baylor Spears, WUOT News

At a public forum Tuesday night, the eleven candidates running for Knoxville’s City Council discussed their ideas on how Knoxville should address homelessness.


In 2018, the city turned a homeless camp located underneath an interstate overpass into a day park, with the stated goal of making the space safer and linking the homeless to case workers. But residents and some homelessness advocates have pointed out the day park also dispersed homeless people into other areas of North Knoxville.


The candidates at Tuesday’s forum provided an array of ideas and approaches to dealing with homelessess. Many centered around the best possible use of city money and resources. Some candidates said more money should be devoted to current programs aimed at alleviating homelessness, while others suggested completely new initiatives should be developed. 


Charles Thomas, Hubert Smith, Amy Midis, Lynne Fugate and Janet Testerman all expressed the view that the current resources need more money and Knoxville’s long-term planning needs an update.


Thomas, a candidate for the 5th District seat, and Fugate, an At-Large Seat A candidate, both said city leaders should meet with those already involved with the issue to figure out the best way to update the city's current ten-year plan, last updated in 2014.


Smith, a candidate for Seat C who was once a shelter manager for Volunteer Ministry Center, said the resources already in place are working, so there’s no reason to “recreate the wheel.” Testerman said more money needs to be allocated to pull resources together and help get people off the streets. 


Midis, an At-Large Seat C candidate, spoke on how these issues have been disrupting the North and South Knoxville communities, and explained that the final solution should be researched in order to limit disruptions.


Other candidates favored creating new housing and potentially new programs to address the issue.  


Charles Al-Bawi, who is running in the 5th district, proposed the city allocate at least $10 million to turning abandoned or derelict buildings into transitional housing for Knoxville’s homeless. Charles Thomas, a candidate in the same race, agreed with Al-Bawi, using as his example the old St. Mary’s Hospital off Broadway in North Knoxville. Thomas said he believes that complex could be an option for transitional housing for people that do want to get out of homelessness. At present, the city has earmarked part of the old hospital campus to house a new police and fire headquarters.


David Williams, a Seat C candidate, said he wants to hear ideas from people already familiar with the unique issues and stumbling blocks of addressing homelessness. One idea, which he heard from a friend who is a pastor, was starting farms where people could live and grow their own food. 


Amelia Parker, who is also a Seat C candidate, said, “Housing is a human right,” and that the city should make housing a bigger priority.


David Hayes, a candidate for At-Large Seat B, said the budget needs to better reflect a concern for human rights by investing in resources like mental health professionals who could be called to help, instead of the police.


Charles Lomax, a candidate for At-Large Seat A, said he thinks it’s necessary to discuss homelessness with experts and, ultimately, the city would be well-served to address poverty, which he described as the root of the problem.


The final day to register to vote in the primary election is July 29. Early voting for the primary election begins August 7, and primary election day is August 27. The top two finishers in each race move on to the general election, scheduled for early November.


This story was reported by WUOT News intern Baylor Spears, and edited by News Director Brandon Hollingsworth