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Homelessness from Inside the Ranks

By Hazel Hall

Most people become homeless out of no fault of their own, and I am a good example of that. On July 8, 2007 my sister burned my house down leaving me with nothing. My church helped me in various ways and sent me to a shelter in Grainger County.

Since Knoxville was my home I wanted to return. I stayed at KARM where I was too uncomfortable to stay. I lasted six days there and found a great case manager through Volunteer Ministries. From there I went to Samaritan Place, an independent Living Community owned and run by Catholic Charities. Eventually, I ended up at Isabella Towers in East Knoxville where I am today.

I was homeless for about three months. I stayed away from drugs and alcohol, but the entire time I was losing a lot of confidence and dignity. It was only through the help of some wonderful people that I survived.

During my time on the streets, I found that there are a percentage of people are on the streets who have no one to blame but themselves. Some people don't want a home because it involves too much responsibility. Unfortunately, these people are often the ones getting the most attention and they make it hard for anyone to care about the people who deserve help.

There are many who abuse the system and refuse to cooperate with public subsidized housing. They have to pay their rent if they have an income. With that they get free medical care and food stamps. If they don't have an income, they have to do community services in the building they live in or elsewhere. I have lived in public housing for three years now. The biggest problems are lack of security and the tolerance policies which are too lenient. We could create a few more jobs by training and hiring the more responsible tenants to secure the buildings. People are given too many chances and too many warnings while they go about destroying the property and making public housing a dangerous place to live.

What it comes down to is that some people can't be helped because they don't want help. These same people are abusing the system and selling everything they can get their hands on so they can buy more drugs and alcohol. Some are nothing more than con artists, and their sob stories are pathetic if you have the insight to see through them. These people get churches and social services to feel obligated to help them then they abuse the system and laugh about it. The key to having a successful program to help the homeless is to weed out the bad ones. I think we need more street-smart people determining who needs and deserves help and screening the ones who are only going to abuse it and make it hard for everyone else. We also need more incentive programs that quickly determine which ones deserve assistance and which ones do not. At Samaritan you get one month of free rent. After that, you have to start paying rent. Their program is set up to determine who wants to cooperate and who just won't do it.

I also think a lot of the organizations are understaffed, and they hit a burnout point. They start out caring but, at some point, they begin to feel that what they're doing is hopeless. To keep their jobs, they'll just contribute to a system that's not working.

I work hard every day doing what I can to give back and make a difference in my own little neighborhood and circle. I started out wanting to change the world, but I found the best way to do that is to focus on one person at a time. I can't do much, but I do what I can for the ones who deserve it. I think if we all take this approach, it will make a lasting, long-term difference and would enable us to see the results every single day.

Update: On November 10, 2012, Hazel Hall took her own life. Hazel made a great impact on the lives of a lot of people. We miss you, Hazel.

A Closer Look at Homelessness in Knoxville

Published December 22, 2010


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