Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, April 8, 2022

City, partners to relocate homeless residents

The city of Chattanooga’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing is working alongside its partners to offer alternative housing arrangements to residents of homeless encampments on properties leased by the city and owned by Norfolk Southern.

After safety incidents with encampment residents walking along tracks and climbing on trains, Norfolk Southern and the city have collaborated on solutions to move them to a safer location.

The city has been working to notify residents, providing more than two months’ advance notice of the coming move. Simultaneously, the city and its partners have arrangements in place to help ensure a smooth transition, with Norfolk Southern committing financial resources to further support those efforts.

“I’m proud of our service providers and community partners who are working diligently and alongside our team to ensure residents of the property are quickly housed,” says Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly. “I am also grateful to Norfolk Southern for committing resources for relief and rehousing efforts and for being flexible on a timeline to allow the city to come into compliance with safety requirements on their property.”

A coalition of organizations including the Community Kitchen, Homeless Healthcare, The Salvation Army, the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, and the Chattanooga Housing Authority will work together to help residents locate safe options for a new home by the May 31 final move date. Coalition members last week canvassed the properties to create a list of people staying on-site, and residents were notified today of the railroad’s request for them to relocate, as well as the coalition’s plan to help them find more suitable living arrangements.

“Active railroad tracks are a dangerous place and citizens should be very cautious when approaching them – especially when trains are present and could potentially move,” says Norfolk Southern Police Director Mark Sinquefield. “We’re grateful the city recognized the safety issues at stake and for the work of the mayor’s office to find an outcome that benefits everyone.

The city will be working to house current encampment residents in either permanent housing or at the city’s own temporary sanctioned encampment, which will be open in the near future. Residents will be placed through the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition’s coordinated entry criteria, which uses an equity lens to ensure housing is provided to people fairly.

The primary driver of homelessness in Chattanooga, like in most cities across the country, is the rapidly rising cost of housing. The average rent of a Chattanooga home rose to $1,200 in 2020 from $700 in 2016, And the average cost of a home has climbed to $290,000 today, up from $159,000 in 2015.

Meanwhile, median household income during the same period rose only slightly to $47,165 from $40,177 in 2015. This disparity has cost-burdened many Chattanooga residents by forcing many to pay more than 30% of their income toward housing costs, which has led directly to an increase in homelessness.

Studies have shown that no single strategy can completely stop homelessness, but successful policies can affect the number and ratio of people entering and exiting homelessness.

The Kelly administration has recently rolled out a number of initiatives to create new off-ramps from homelessness, such as increasing the supply of affordable housing, and by increasing funding for housing navigation services, while also working to throttle the number of those entering homelessness through programs like its eviction prevention initiative.