FRANKLIN – A plan is underway to bring the first permanent homeless shelter to Franklin, a city where advocates estimate hundreds of people are experiencing homelessness, many out of sight, in their cars or doubled up with friends.
The plan is for the shelter to serve men, women and families year-round, while also offering food, mental health care and job coaching on the path to permanent housing.
There is currently no temporary shelter in Franklin or in Williamson County.
Kevin Riggs, pastor of Franklin Community Church, is spearheading the effort to build the permanent shelter. He has advocated for a homeless shelter for nearly a decade.
“It breaks my heart every time they call to say ‘There’s not a place for you.’ It’s hard to say, but it’s a reality,” he said.
Riggs unveiled his plan for the shelter Monday night alongside community leaders, including Franklin At-Large Alderman Brandy Blanton and Williamson Inc. CEO Matt Largen, at a public meeting held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
“This is important to me personally,” Largen said. “I also think the business community can play a constructive role in solving the problem.”
The meeting comes less than a month after a Tennessean article highlighted the need for a shelter as local nonprofits reported an uptick in the number of people experiencing homelessness.
More than 100 people attended the meeting, and dozens of residents offered ideas and help to bring the shelter to fruition.
Blanton, who regularly provides food to people in the city experiencing homelessness, said, “There are a lot of people here who I have no idea who you are. What excites me about tonight is it that it’s going to take a new group of fresh blood that really cares about this to get something going.”
Homeless by the numbers
The official tally of people experiencing homelessness in Franklin and Williamson County is unknown, Riggs said.
He estimates there are 750 to 1,000 people experiencing homelessness in the county.
“No one in the city or county really know how many homeless there are because we haven’t done a good job of tracking it,” he said. “Because most of the homeless are from here, they kind of stay hidden. They don’t panhandle, for the most part. They just kind of walk the streets.”
The city of Franklin reported that five people experienced unsheltered homelessness in 2018. The Franklin Police Department said 15 people were documented as being doubled up, living on the streets or living in their vehicle in January. The county has reported zero homelessness for the last few years.
The numbers fall far below data shared by local nonprofits, like Graceworks Ministries, which served 220 individuals from June 2017 to July 2018 who were experiencing homelessness in some form.
And, in the Franklin Special School District, 109 students have been recorded as homeless in the current school year under the federal definition of student homelessness. The district expects that number to increase before the end of the school year.
Plan is to build shelter as soon as possible
Riggs and an advisory committee, which includes Blanton and Largen, are now searching for land or an existing structure that could house the permanent shelter.
The plan is to build a 10,000 sq. ft. shelter for 30 to 40 men, women and children that includes security. Riggs said the shelter must be pet friendly. The space would include private offices for counseling and vocational training.
The committee said the shelter would ideally exist on Franklin land zoned for general commercial or special development, as Blanton explained these types of zonings do not require a neighborhood meeting ahead of building or renovating.
A development like a homeless shelter would require some type of public engagement, according to City of Franklin Communications Manager Milissa Reierson, and would likely require approval by the city’s planning department.
Riggs acknowledged that a shelter in Franklin could attract people experiencing homelessness in surrounding counties.
“That doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to take care of the people who are already here and experiencing homelessness,” he said.
Representatives from Bridges, a domestic violence shelter in Franklin, as well as the Nashville Rescue Mission and Room In The Inn have offered support for the Franklin shelter.
The shelter could cost up to $2 million per year to operate.
The advisory committee has not decided if it will form a new licensed nonprofit to operate the shelter or if an existing organization will oversee it.
“It’s one thing to build a shelter, but how do you sustain it over time and pay for it? Those are things that we’ve got to address,” Largen said, adding that the plan will require input from local government. Franklin Mayor Ken Moore and Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson did not attend the community meeting about the shelter.
Largen continued, “I really think the focus now is how do we accomplish his short-term need of establishing, building or renovating a permanent shelter for the people experiencing homelessness in Williamson County?”
Blanton does not want the shelter to have any religious affiliation.
“We feel really strongly that help is given with no strings attached,” she said.
Riggs is in the process of finalizing the advisory committee, which also includes Williamson-Maury Habitat for Humanity founder John Besser and Elliott and Sons Construction owner Gregg Elliott.
The advisory board will oversee a number of volunteer committees that will help develop the shelter.
Riggs is looking for volunteers to help with creating and maintaining the shelter, including fundraising, marketing and providing resources to shelter residents.