What homelessness looks like in Memphis and what’s being done to help

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis mother said she and her daughters are living in hotel rooms and some nights in their car, as they try to find an affordable place to live.

“We try to keep the basic things we need with us,” Ebony Johnson said as she showed us her box full of possessions.

“It’s been really hard trying to find a place,” Johnson said.

Last November, Malik Johnson sold his rental home in Memphis. She said she and her two children had to leave immediately. She said her credit made the down payments more expensive and then took up the moving fees.

“It’s hard to get all that money at once,” she said.

Although she said she works a full-time job at a local grocery store, her paycheck goes to a storage unit, and not having a kitchen means they have to eat out more and on nights they can’t find a place to sleep, they get a hotel room. . Some nights, they have to stay in their car, she said.

“I can’t even explain it. It’s a cut that no one will ever know about. It feels terrible,” she said.

Johnson says she reached out to several nonprofits, and they put her on a waiting list. She is waiting for a break or enough savings to find a safe, affordable place near her children’s schools.

It’s a story that has become all too familiar.

Across the country, the homeless crisis is getting worse. Shelby County is no exception.

Camps have appeared next to highways, in forests and in ancient cemeteries. People find shelter under bridges and on the side of the street.

The stories are all different. The solution is not one size fits all.

“There are service providers. There are housing providers. Community leaders really want to move this issue forward,” said Erin Woods of the Community Alliance for the Homeless.

Basically, they bring together all service providers from different sectors to work together and solve problems. In September, they discussed the number of homeless people this year.

“We know there is an increase in our community,” Woods said at the meeting.

Most were in a shelter, but some were not.

“There are always people who can’t go to congregate shelters,” said Jessica Horay of Hospitality Hub, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness.

Hundreds of people can’t get into the shelter because they’ve been blocked due to a mental health issue, substance abuse or health condition, she said. They may not have a valid ID or do not want to separate their families.

This is who they want to help.

The Hub builds tiny homes to house these people while staff connects them to services and then permanent housing. The idea started as a pilot program.

“We have been able to get people out of actual homelessness and onto the street. Most of the time they have been chronically homeless for years. It takes an average of 31 days to house them,” Al-Houri said.

On the other side of town, Whitney Fullerton told WREG investigators what she saw was heartbreaking.

“The numbers are much higher than people realize,” she said. “Homelessness is a much bigger and broader issue than most people realize.”

Fullerton is the director of the Lisieux Community Program, which works to help women survivors of homelessness.

“They live on the streets, in abandoned houses, in cars,” she said. “Some live in marginal places, so they move from place to place and stay where they can when they can.”

The nonprofit distributes care packages and, in 2021, opened a tiny house outside for the summer where women can go during the day for hot showers, food, laundry, arts and crafts, and naps — no questions asked.

“All of the women we serve have different, different struggles,” she said. “But they all faced shock.”

There were veterans, families and children at the last count. In fact, Memphis-Shelby County Schools said nearly 3,000 of its students faced homelessness at some point last school year.

Woods said they have committees looking at that and much more, but he believes the big focus should be on affordable housing.

“This is a huge barrier across the board. However, we are trying to narrow the gap a little.”

Inflation is exacerbating the problem, and rents are rising at their fastest rate in decades.

Johnson said it’s waving a red flag. Her patience is running out.

“They need more resources to help people,” she said. “Getting over the hurdle of getting started is tough. It’s really tough.

for more information

For more information about the Community Alliance for the Homeless: click here

To learn more about tiny homes and the work the Hospitality Center does: click here

If you want to know more about the Lisieux community: click here

Do you need to investigate the story? WREG Investigators want to hear from you! Call our tip line at 901-543-2378. You can also email newstips@wreg.com.

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