Dealing with homelessness is a complex issue facing many areas across the U.S.
In Tennessee, lawmakers have made it a felony to camp illegally on public property.
However, in Chattanooga, a nonprofit organization runs a city-sanctioned program that allows people to camp outside at the corner of 12th and Peeples.
Tom Benson calls the community his home.
“I can leave during the day and go to college, and I know I can come back with all my belongings and know everything will be safe and that I’ll always have a bed," he said.
Marybeth Shinn, a professor at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, believes the lack of affordable housing contributes to homelessness.
“If we make housing affordable for families, that’s sufficient to end homelessness,” Shinn said. “We know what does it. We managed to cut homelessness among military veterans almost in half.”
From 2009 to 2019, a coordination of state and federal efforts got nearly 40,000 veterans off the streets. Those efforts didn’t extend everywhere else. But as homelessness remains steady nationwide, more dollars have been dedicated to help fix the problem.
In Colorado, the governor approved $45 million dollars to convert a youth corrections facility into a homeless recovery campus. In Asheville, North Carolina, a nonprofit with city and county help purchased an old Days Inn hotel. The rooms will soon become homes for people used to living on the streets.
In Chattanooga, the mayor announced a $100 million dollar commitment to affordable housing, along with the camp at 12th and Peeples. Residents of the camp want to one day look for homes in a city where the price of a home has nearly doubled in the last three years.
Ann-Marie Fitzsimmons and Niki Keck run the nonprofit that runs the camp.
“On our intake forms that we have them fill out when they come in and we ask them, ‘What’s keeping you from housing?’ Almost 100% of them will address rent prices or lack of housing,” Fitzsimmons said. “We can’t hold all the people here in Chattanooga that are homeless. Whether this law was passed or not, they still have no place to go."
Meanwhile, people at the camp are hanging in there, hoping for brighter days ahead.
“We’re all like brothers and sisters here," Lee Shelton said. "We hang in there with each other."