W.C. Drug Coalition discusses homelessness, drug abuse

Statistics are increasing during COVID pandemic

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During the November meeting of the White County Drug Coalition, members discussed growing concerns for homelessness during the upcoming winter months.

According to Glen Sayes, director of the substance abuse solutions department at UCHRA, experts are predicting that 40 percent of the United State population will change housing in the next four to five years.

“This will make the price of housing rise and will push people out onto the streets,” Sayes claimed. “UCHRA has some extra funds for temporary, emergency situations, but we need to work toward solutions.”

Sayes is the director of a new, innovative program that he claims is the first of its kind.

“We are a hub - traffic directors,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone else in the country doing it like we are.”

Sayes explained the program provides connections for people trying to break the holds of substance abuse. Through the UCHRA program, which just began in July 2020, 222 individuals in the Upper Cumberland area have signed up looking for help. Help is provided via connecting clients to resources like housing, treatment programs, rehabilitation, counseling, and peer-mentoring.

“One of the biggest needs is housing,” Sayes said. “Over the last three-and-a-half months, we have provided 322 nights of emergency shelter. We have an agreement with one of the hotels here and get a special rate, but we have almost used up half of a two-year budget in that three and a half months.”

Sayes said that placing people in the Cookeville Rescue Mission has proved difficult this season, but, due to a combination of factors, some of which he said have to do with COVID-19 and testing, the mission is not accepting many residents at this time.

Tina Lomax, who is the driving force behind White County’s Coldest Nights Shelter, said she has already been receiving calls for those needing a place to stay, even though the shelter’s season doesn’t begin until Jan. 1.

“We have been getting more and more calls; the numbers are astronomical,” Lomax said.

She estimated there are more than  50 people in White County without a permanent place to stay, including a family with small children who are currently sleeping in tents. 

“We had hoped to open the shelter on Dec. 15, but, due to the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the county, we have had to push that back to January,” Lomax said.

Along with the current homeless numbers, the White County Anti-Drug Coalition also learned that White County ranks fifth out of the 14 Upper Cumberland counties in number of children now in DCS custody.

“There has been an increase since May,” Beth Kirby, coalition chairperson, said. “We are seeing an increase in drug use, and that is causing an increase in DCS custody cases.”

Kirby said the coalition will be helping to provide Christmas presents for those children who are in DCS custody.

 “White County High School’s Interact Club will be providing a lot of the gifts, but we will get whatever gifts are still needed,” she said.

Before the meeting was adjourned, the group also discussed how they can get Narcan Training to members of the public during these times while large gatherings are discouraged. Suggestions were made that included pop-up style booths at places where other events were already taking place.

The next meeting for the White County Anti-Drug Coalition, which will continue to be held virtually, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Dec. 22.     

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