Photo and Story by Timothy Carroll / Contributing Writer
The Murfreesboro City Council and MTSU representatives convened to hold a workshop to discuss a plan to combat the issue of rising homeless rates across Rutherford County on Thursday at City Hall.
MTSU Social Work Department Chair Michael Sherr and his graduate assistant Jackie Jones presented the findings of a study, titled “Conceptual Master Plan.” The study was commissioned by a nonprofit organization, the Homeless Alliance of Rutherford County, and it was conducted over the last several months. Sherr’s team examined those at risk and those that are already considered homeless. Their study showed that an estimated 1,500 students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade were homeless and would not know where they would be getting their next meal. Murfreesboro’s population is expected to continue to grow at a rapid pace over the next several years, reaching 228,000 by 2035, according to a City press release.
One of the key issues discussed was the ease of access to programs and organizations that can help those in need. Often, those who need aid the most either don’t have a way of getting to the office of the organization that will provide assistance, or they simply don’t want the help because of other circumstances. The focus of Sherr’s presentation was the construction of a campus-style building in the county that could house all of these groups under one roof. This facility would make it easier for those in need to have access to the programs or funds that they would need to get back on their feet, according to Sherr.
“For this to work, the players, the council, the city, the non-profits all need to be on board so we can get this done,” Sherr said.
During the presentation, Sherr emphasized that the funds for the building would not simply come straight from the taxpayers but rather from several organizations, both non-profits and governmental. Therefore, the financial burden would not fall on one particular group.
Such buildings as the one proposed by Sherr’s team have already been implemented in other cities across the country, and have been met with successful results. Sherr’s plan would allow for a place that could not only provide a location where people in need could find the assistance that they require, but it would also provide a place that could give job training to those that lack needed skills. Although it might seem costly upfront, the overall success of the program would save the county more money in the long run, according to the presentation.
Sherr’s team argued this point by showing the results of a study conducted by Vanderbilt University, which displayed that a typical homeless citizen costs taxpayers anywhere from $7,800 to $21,000 per year through various outlets such as jails, nonprofits and hospital stays. Having a place where those in need can go to receive assistance would greatly reduce the taxpayer’s burden by helping these citizens to become productive members of society again, according to Sherr’s team.
The overall reaction by the City Council to the presentation was favorable.
“If we can be nationally recognized as the 10th fastest growing city, then something must be bringing them here,” said Vice Mayor Madelyn Scales-Harris. “This is an excellent time to give those in need that little push they need.”
Currently, no resolution has been passed on behalf of the project. The Council Workshop was only the first step in the process of securing funds and getting approval. The next phase of the project will be accessing funding by getting approval from the City, nonprofits and other organizations.
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