published Monday, April 4th, 2011

Rhea seeks shelter for homeless

By Kimberly McMillian

RHEA INCIDENTS

• Child abuse — 58

• Domestic violence w/vandalism — 10

• Domestic violence w/assault — 201

• Rape — 15

• Sexual assault — 13

• Violation of order of protection — 97

Source: Rhea County Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Statistics, Dec. 2010

DAYTON, Tenn.—For Laura Olmstead, working with the We Care Community Services Inc.’s transitional shelter Haven House to provide food and housing to those in need is personal.

As a teenager in Pike-ville, Tenn., Olmstead came home one day to find her bags packed and herself on the street.

Her early adulthood was a roller coaster of homelessness. Years later, in an abusive marriage, she found shelter at a home for battered women.

In a telephone interview, Olmstead said she knows that “something needs to be done” about the growing homeless population in Rhea County, especially with so many out of a job.

We Care assists Rhea County’s low-income individuals and families with a “a hand up, not a handout” through its food pantry and shelters. The Safe Haven Light shelter provides for the county’s homeless children.

At a meeting Wednesday with local housing assistance leaders, members from We Care, the Rhea County Domestic Violence Council, the Chattanooga and Dayton housing authorities, a local real estate agent, school board members and United Way officials met to discuss the county’s increased homelessness.

Lisa Bonadio, with the Dayton Housing Authority, said many children find themselves homeless after aging out of foster care.

Jacqueline Pope, with the Domestic Violence Council, said that more than a dozen incidents of domestic abuse had occurred recently and there was no shelter for battered women.

Walter Ring, president of We Care, said many needy families have received assistance from local churches that provided hotel rooms.

Ring said We Care has turned down families over the last six months. He said the agency had sought funding from a housing-assistance program, but there’s “no real money to operate a shelter right now.”

Providing the proper housing requires agencies to meet certain government regulations, Bonadio said. Often those rules prohibit the use of previously built structures.

Ring said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also required We Care to carry a 24/7 insurance policy that larger cities could afford.

City and county officials, along with housing leaders, will meet again at noon April 20 to review the procurement of future housing and funding assistance.

Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at kdj424@bellsouth.net.

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