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UCHRA Holds Homelessness Roundtable

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
UCHRA Holds Homelessness Roundtable

The UCHRA Policy Committee held a roundtable Wednesday to discuss the challenges of managing the homeless population in the Upper Cumberland.

Cookeville Police Sargeant Zach Gilpin told the committee that a homeless encampment behind the Cook Out on Scenic Drive has been home to as many as 150 homeless people. He said when organizations and churches provide food and clothes to the individuals camping there, homeless people from surrounding counties move in for those commodities. Executive Director Mark Farley said being proactive by working with the key demographic of young males may be the best way to move toward a solution.

“We’ve got to start early on,” Farley said. “You know, our Epower program is dealing with 75 percent single moms raising kids all by themselves, and that, undoubtedly, the drug issues and everything combined, that’s what’s leading to the homelessness issue and the crime issue and everything else.”

Gilpin said this particular encampment, historically, has appointed leaders and functioned almost like a small town. He said the owners of the property are based in Hendersonville and had no idea people had been camped out on the property for some three years when notified recently.

“Once the resources shut down, they start going to different counties,” Gilpin said. “So I think, if we were to ever solve the problem in Cookeville, we could just make the counties around us worse. So, that part of it is just going to keep spreading and getting pushed around.”

Farley said the Upper Cumberland’s working population is not where it needs to be, and falling. He said the state average of employment between the ages of 16 and 64 is 60 percent, whereas the Upper Cumberland’s regional average is at 50 percent and some communities are closer to 40 percent. Gilpin said a piece of the unhoused population may not want to be helped.

“I know one of them that’s kind of lived on the streets of Cookeville for a long time and has been offered many jobs,” Gilpin said. “He tells them ‘I make $60,000 a year, cash money, no taxes, I don’t need a job.’”

Farley applauded the Cookeville Police Department for constantly working through the issue.


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