Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

Leaders Form Committees in Effort to Create Bristol Day Center

Eight months after a proposal was released for a day center in Bristol, community leaders in the Twin City and the surrounding area met to start forming the committees that will bring the Bristol Day Center to fruition.

The organizational kickoff meeting was held at The Summit in Bristol, Tennessee, and was attended by city officials from both sides of the state line, as well as business leaders, religious leaders, professionals and other active community members. Those in attendance formed committees focusing on necessary organizational aspects of the project, such as communications, facilities, financing and administration, fundraising, mental health, programming and site selection.

The day center was announced in December 2018 by a community coalition comprised of city government in both Bristols, local business leaders, religious leaders and providers of services to the city’s homeless population.

It has been pitched as a place where the homeless and financially insecure can get help if they want it. They could take showers, do laundry, get new clothes, get help finding employment or transitional housing and start treatment paths for mental illness, among other things.

During the day, when the Salvation Army and Haven of Rest close their doors, many homeless people are left with few places to go, and many end up congregating at the Bristol Public Library. The library has an AmeriCorps volunteer who provides housing counseling and allows social service agencies to operate in their study rooms.

But there is no single site that offers services to the homeless and financially insecure during the day.

To make that happen, though, those planning the day center will have to find a steady source of funding, figure out where the center should be located and find out how to provide needed programs, among other necessary concerns.

At the organizational meeting, Christina Blevins, community development specialist for Bristol, Tennessee; Ellen Tolton, Community Development Block Grant coordinator for Bristol, Virginia; and both members of the community coalition leading the day center efforts talked about how the Johnson City Downtown Day Center could serve as a model. The Johnson City facility opened in 2006 and offers many of the services that the Bristol Day Center is proposed to offer and could serve as a model.

Ms. Ellen Tolton, CDBG Coordinator for the City of Bristol, Virginia, gives a presentation of what a possible Bristol Day Center could look like. Part of her presentation was from a tour of the Johnson City (TN) Day Center.
(David Crigger/BHC)

The members of the newly formed site selection committee also discussed contacting other day centers around the country to get their perspectives. They also discussed evaluating some of the sites that have already been offered for the day center and what the criteria for the site will have to be. However, it could be a year or more before a site is even selected for the day center, Blevins said, because the process was deliberately designed to move slowly.

Members of the site selection committee include Blevins, Tolton, Breanne Forbes Hubbard of the Virginia Department of Health and a Bristol Virginia Planning Commission member; Sally Morgan, Bristol, Virginia’s senior city planner; Barbara Doyle, a pastor at Meadowview United Methodist Church in Meadowview and Shady Grove United Methodist Church in Abingdon; and realtor Steve Willinger.

Blevins added that decisions made by other committees, such as the programming and facilities committees, will inform the type of site that is ultimately selected and whether they buy, build or rent.

For other committees, things didn’t just stay on the planning or theoretical level, though; the communication committee made moves to snag a website domain and social media usernames for the day center.

Lisa Cofer, who serves as spokeswoman for the center and is executive director of United Way of Bristol, said plans are moving forward, and anyone who would like to join the efforts can contact a member of the Bristol Day Center Working Group or call 423-968-4912 for details.

Source: Bristol Herald Courier, Leif Greiss – August 23, 2019

Additional from WCYB – August 31, 2019: City leaders make strides toward day center for Bristol’s homeless population –Bristol, VA (WCYB)

Organizations and members within the Bristol, Tenn. and Va. communities say they’re making progress on a day center project for Bristol’s homeless population.

To view the entire Bristol Day Center proposal, click here.

 United Way is serving as the fiscal agent for the day center project; however, more than 15 groups like Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness and Crossroads Medical Mission are joining the effort. 

A recent count of Bristol’s homeless population under the Housing & Urban Development (HUD) reveals more than 100 people are experiencing homelessness in Bristol, Tenn. and Va.

“We do have a growing homeless population that our families with children, and individuals, as well as couples,” said Executive Director Lisa Cofer of the United Way of Bristol, TN/VA.

With a goal of reducing that number, newly-created task force groups move the day center project one step further.

The steering committee for the day center project consist of organizations and individuals within the region who have dealt with the homeless population in some way. A number are organizations who are providing existing resources, one is a former police officer and other individual who have been or are homeless.

“We’ve got to figure out what’s the best way to help them. We’re not going to do it for them, but we’re going to provide them a safe place to go, where they can be warm or be cool in the summer, where they can have a snack, do their laundry, go to the bathroom, take a shower,” said Cofer.

Haven of Rest Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army are some community organizations already providing help to the homeless in certain capacities. However, the day center is looking to fill the gaps, especially by simply providing a safe space for the homeless to stay.

With this mission, however, the goal is to reduce their population by allowing them to get back on their feet. Resources for resume help, job leads and medical treatment will be offered.

This project has been in the making for two years. But, those involved say creating and forming the tasks groups was a big move.

“We’re getting to the point where we are getting to the nuts and bolts of moving forward. We’re in the point where we’re going to try to raise the money for it,” said Executive Director Brian Plank of the Haven of Rest Rescue Mission.

The center will be funded by donations and grant money.

Plank believes it’s a worthwhile project to help the homeless move forward with their lives, and for what it can do in saving tax-payer dollars.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a chronically-homeless person costs the tax year an average of $35,578 per year. The study shows that reducing homelessness will also reduce the use of publicly-funded crisis services like jails, hospitalizations and emergency departments (

“So if you think about each homeless person costing that much to a community, that’s a tremendous burden that the city is bearing,” said Plank.

Involved leaders say that a day center is crucial for giving the homeless a chance to get permanent housing, a job, start or go back to their families—which in turn, gives money back to the city as they enter back into society as a tax payer.