Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

BRHA Represented at Joint Twin City Community Forum for Day Center

Ms. Lynn Pannell, Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Coordinator for the Bristol Redevelopment and Housing Authority and Bristol Coalition member, participated in panel discussions for a potential Day Center for the homeless in our region

The Bristol Herald Courier provided coverage of this event and the link to the full article can be found here.

Ms. Lynn Pannell, BRHA Family Self-Sufficiency Coordinator

BRISTOL, Va. — More than 50 people from both sides of the Twin City attended a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon to learn about the day center proposed for the city’s homeless.

“Downtown has seen an increase in homeless activity,” said Christina Blevins, community development specialist for Bristol, Tennessee. “Y’all have seen it, we know it’s out there, people are talking about it and leaders in our community are actually listening.”

Planning for the day center started more than a year ago, when Roger Leonard, managing director of the Summit Companies, brought together a coalition of city government, business and religious leaders and service providers to homeless people to work toward a place for the city’s homeless to get the services they need during the day.

Two discussions, one at noon and the other at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, were held at the Bristol Public Library. The panels consisted of five community members whose work brings them directly or indirectly in contact with the homeless. Many of those who attended also have personal or professional connections to homelessness in the city.

A group of local community agencies meet for a panel discussion regarding a proposed Bristol Day Center for the homeless

Blevins and Ellen Tolton, Community Development Block Grant coordinator for Bristol, Virginia, kicked off the discussion by highlighting the need for a day center. Blevins said there is no lack of services for homeless people in Bristol, but there is no central location for all the services needed by the homeless and those in poverty.

In many ways, the library has served as a de facto day center, but Blevins said the library is not equipped, and its staff is not trained to deal with the city’s homeless.

“The day center we are proposing will give homeless citizens a preferred alternative place to go where they can receive proper services that are most useful to them,” Blevins said. “Establishing a day center will help downtown continue to move forward and positively impact property values, tax revenue and perceptions.”

Bristol Virginia Police Chief John Austin, a panelist, was asked if homelessness is a public safety issue. He responded that it’s not because the majority of issues the police deal with from the homeless are people blocking doors to businesses or panhandling.

Brian Plank, another panelist and director of the Haven of Rest Rescue Mission, said the number of people coming into the shelter has increased over the last several years, and an increasing number of them are young or have mental health problems.

When questions were turned over to the audience, many who spoke had suggestions or questions about services to be offered at the center.

Ms. Margaret Feierbend, Mayor, Bristol, Tennessee

Kevin France, leader of the food service ministry for Fellowship Chapel Church, asked if a site has been selected. Based on his experience serving homeless people, France said the location needs to be downtown or near downtown. Blevins said the search has begun, but no site has been selected.

Tim Duncan, coordinator of student services for Bristol Virginia Public schools, said when the hours for the day center are being decided, those involved should take into consideration that a number of children in the school district are affected by homelessness. He said many of them have Google Chomebooks and need a place to charge them and do homework.

However, concern was also expressed that the day center may attract more homeless people to the city. Tolton said the day center wouldn’t add services that don’t already exist, but would concentrate them into a single accessible location.