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Knoxville leader says lack of mental health resources and higher housing costs raises homelessness

City leaders said that a lack of mental health resources and higher housing costs are contributing to a rise in the number of unhoused people in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The number of unhoused people in Knoxville has been rising for a while. Many residents said they have seen camps built near their houses, outside of areas where unhoused people usually settled down.

Charles Thomas, a member of the Knoxville City Council, said there are two major factors increasing homelessness: a lack of mental health resources and a sharp increase in the cost of housing.

"That makes up the bulk of the homeless population," he said. "People are falling on hard times. They have lost their jobs, they can't afford housing, which is a problem, of course, with affordable housing."'

He also said that as the city tears down camps where unhoused people tended to gather, such as in the Blackstock area, people experiencing homelessness may spread out throughout the city. 

A neighborhood leader in Old North Knoxville also said substance abuse is a common aspect of the problem. He said that as more people struggle with substance abuse, the neighborhood is seeing more incidents of property theft.

"The addiction controls the people," said Pete Creel, who said he lived in the Old North Knoxville for more than 25 years.

City leaders said they are trying to hire more social workers to address the underlying issues of homelessness. They said they hope those social workers will be able to connect people with the resources they need to create stability in their lives.

The Knoxville Community Dashboard on Homelessness said they served 4,765 clients in the second quarter of 2022, with 1,270 at-risk and housed clients.

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