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What are the effects of homelessness?

Holly Viers • Dec 31, 2018 at 9:25 AM

KINGSPORT — Whether they’ve been homeless for a few weeks or several months, the experience can have a lasting impact on people — physically, mentally and emotionally.

Across the board, homeless people often experience hunger, lack of hygiene and a constant feeling of being insecure in their environment. They might find it hard to focus on anything other than where their next meal is coming from or where they will sleep at night.

Over the last few months, the Times News spoke with individuals who regularly work with the homeless in Kingsport to find out how homelessness can affect adults and children.

Adults

Michael Gillis, executive director of Hunger First, said the homeless are often so focused on making sure their basic needs are met that they neglect other aspects of their lives, such as spirituality.

“You get to the point of where you’re starving. You just don’t really think about anything else,” Gillis said. “You don’t think about God. You don’t think about anything. Matter of fact, you may get to the point to where you’re out here, outside in the elements so bad that you begin to hate God, blame God.”

Will Shewey, pastor of Shades of Grace United Methodist Church, said he’s encountered homeless people who work, yet still don’t have enough money to rent a basic apartment. After a while, the feeling of not being able to get ahead can take a toll.

“We had a lady who was in (several) weeks ago. She’s working every day in Johnson City and has been living in her car for months, because she makes $1,400 a month, and you have to make no more than $1,200 a month to qualify for any kind of assistance with housing. She had just gotten the car that she’s living in,” Shewey said. “It was a used car. The headlights fell out. The radiator broke. She was spending a lot of that $1,400 just to keep her car on the road to keep a job, and yet she was still sleeping in the car, and you can’t get ahead that way. You can’t get ahead.”

Children

Michele Wilder, homeless education program coordinator for Kingsport City Schools, said children with no permanent home can struggle socially and academically.

“It’s very difficult for them if they’re having to change places a lot,” Wilder said, “or even they’ve had to switch schools so much they get to where it’s difficult for them to feel secure in that situation. … Maybe they don’t necessarily see the point in trying to establish roots and make lasting relationships and that sort of thing, because they’re afraid that it’s not going to last either.”

As with some children in low-income families, homeless children often rely on the school system to provide their only meals for the day. And when children go hungry, their ability to learn often suffers, as research by Feeding America points out.

“They eat free breakfast and lunch in our school system, thank goodness, and then now we’re starting to provide bus snacks with some of our elementary schools through donations in the afternoon,” said Alisa Emery, coordinator of the Family Resource Center for Kingsport City Schools. “And I’ve had some of those students say to me, ‘This bus snack is my dinner.’ ”

Tomorrow: The possible solutions to homelessness.

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