Divided Cities: Homeless Population in Hamilton County

Photo by Stephanie Swart

By Zoe Morton, Staff Writer 

Over 4,000 individuals experience homelessness every year in Chattanooga, with the number rapidly rising with the effects of Covid-19. In America as a whole, the number of families experiencing homelessness increased by nearly 300 percent. 

Chattanooga is the second fastest-growing city in Tennessee which, inflated the housing market and driven up rent prices and coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, led to an 81 percent increase in the homeless population in Hamilton County. 

In an attempt to extend an existing partnership between Chattanooga and the Budgetel Inn and Suites in East Ridge, Tennessee, the Chattanooga City Council unanimously approved 75 more rooms for families without a place to stay, adding to the original 25 rooms allotted for medically vulnerable unhoused people. 

This plan will cost the city around $400,000, but is expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. 

However, controversy struck when East Ridge’s mayor, Brian Williams, said the city of Chattanooga never discussed this proposal with the city of East Ridge. 

Williams told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he plans to work with the city of Chattanooga to find a resolution which works for both cities.

“We will make the best possible solution, because we do know that it is a reasonable and a dire need that is within our community, our entire region,” Williams said.

This statement comes as Chattanooga begins the search for a hotel within the city limits. 

However, some UTC students criticized the entire situation. 

Emma Wagner, a junior studying political science, did not approve of Chattanooga’s approach to solve the issue.

“I’m not sure whose idea it was or why they thought anyone would be okay with it, let alone the city of East Ridge,” Wagner said. “I will say, however, that it showed a lot of people’s true colors in the process as to attitudes towards the unhoused population and how we treat them.” 

Other students echoed these worries. Yesmeen Minkara, a freshman from Chattanooga, said it did not make sense to her to relocate the unhoused families to East Ridge, when they are already located in Chattanooga.

As Chattanooga’s unhoused population continues to grow, tragedy struck on March 27 with a fire at Patten Towers, leaving 160 residents displaced. Patten Towers served as a low income residency in the Downtown Chattanooga area. 

The fire left the building condemned, and the residents with no clear date in sight of when they would be allowed back in their apartments. Even more tragic, are the reports coming from displaced residents citing that their temporary housing, the same hotel that Chattanooga officials attempted to house 100 homeless families in, has black mold, rodent feces, and bed bugs. 

Macy Tomlin, a freshman from Franklin, said hearing about the poor living conditions for those impacted and displaced by the fires was disheartening.

“We all deserve somewhere safe and healthy to live,” Tomlin said.

For more information and resources on how to help the growing unhoused population in Chattanooga, check out Homeless Chattanooga.

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