By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor–
According to the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, an annual count has revealed that the number of unsheltered houseless people in the area has increased by a staggering 81 percent. An already-vulnerable population has been made even more vulnerable by the weight of the pandemic, and an increase in the popularity of teleworkers relocating to Chattanooga has driven housing costs upwards and tightened the rent market significantly.
Houseless people not only lack shelters, but in addition, many face food insecurity and are often denied access to social services and support. In order to try and mitigate this significant and growing challenge within the city of Chattanooga, the Chattanooga City Council recently voted unanimously to provide 100 hotel rooms at the Budgetel hotel, in East Ridge.
This effort would cost approximately $400,000, but the cost would be reimbursed to the city by FEMA. The duration of the stay was set to be 90 days or until June 12, 2021. They would also be granted access to food and basic social services during their stay, with the end goal being more long-term stability going forward.
However, despite the intention, information surfaced following the vote that the Chattanooga City Council had not discussed the plans with the City of East Ridge. The city council members reportedly heard about the decision on the news themselves, which of course didn’t sit well. The repercussions of that non-communication have resulted in the City of Chattanooga putting these plans on hold together, when amidst COVID-19, tornado season, and general need, there really is no time to waste.
This, to me, is a really unfortunate example of a failure of bureaucracy when people’s health, safety, and even lives are at stake. Not only does each municipality have a duty to look out for the well-being of all its citizens, but this bureaucratic failure has led to those already turned a blind eye being put on hold yet again.
Chattanooga, like so many citizens, has a far-too-high population of houseless persons that seems to continue to increase in numbers and visibility. As the city grows and continues to develop–attracting folks from all over–it cannot forget the effects that growth has on those living in under-resourced, under-served, and pushed-away circumstances. Chattanooga, like all cities, has a duty to do right by all of its residents, even those who don’t fit the public image it seeks to promote. I hope that the city councils of both Chattanooga and East Ridge will work together to get this effort back on the right track.