Nicole Sibilski

Williamson County has a homelessness problem. We just refuse to talk about it.

The face of homelessness has changed. People seeking shelter in our county include teenagers who have been kicked out of their homes, parents who courageously fled an abusive intimate partner relationship and able-bodied people with full-time jobs who literally make too little money to afford a place to live. These people — often neighbors, friends, and classmates — sleep on couches, in their cars and sometimes even the street.

How bad is Williamson County’s homeless problem?

The scary part is, we don’t know. Most of our cities don’t capture this data. But here is what we do know: In Williamson County Schools alone, more than 130 students were recorded as homeless in the 2018-19 school year and FSSD reported 109 homeless students. From Aug. through Sept. 15, more than 300 people, right here in Franklin, sought overnight shelter from the blistering heat.

Williamson County has a homelessness problem. Let’s not talk about it. Let’s do something about it.

Thankfully, the Williamson County Homeless Alliance, an initiative born of a coalition of local churches, community leaders, and non-profits, has done just that, but they need our help. The Alliance provides emergency shelter to displaced people in Williamson County. The shelter is located at Franklin First United Methodist Church (Monday, Tuesday, and Friday) and The Church at West Franklin (Wednesday and Thursday). The services provided have no strings attached — pets are welcome, and families are allowed to stay together. These two distinct characteristics make the Alliance one of the more inclusive and innovative homeless shelters in the nation. Did you know that around 10% of homeless people have a cat or a dog, and the vast majority report that they will choose to sleep in a car or on the street rather than be separated from their animal? Did you know that homeless couples often are forced to choose between shelter and being separated? The Alliance recognized these barriers for people facing homelessness and specifically designed a program that ensures that anyone who needs safe emergency shelter in Williamson County has access.

As a brutal winter season approaches, the Alliance needs all of our help to keep serving our community members. There are two distinct ways to get involved:

1. Cash donations: $250 a night is all that is required for the shelter to stay operational. Cash donations are greatly needed to make sure the doors stay open, especially during the harshest nights. Tax deductible donations can be made here [https://franklincommunitychurch.org/giving-2/ through the Franklin Community Development Foundation.

2. Meal donations: The Alliance serves two meals a day, dinner and breakfast. Donations of food — especially hot meals — are highly desired. While the Alliance has several business partners, they would be thrilled for community members to drop off a hot meal at the shelter. Meals should serve up to 12 people. People wishing to provide meals should reach out to Alderman and Alliance Board Member Brandy Blanton at brandybblanton@gmail.com.

Additional shelter needs include new socks, underwear, and hygiene products.

The Alliance doesn’t just want people to drop off their donation. They encourage everyone to come to the shelter, serve a meal, and meet their neighbors. “We would love for you to meet the people in the room,” says Blanton. “Really get to touch and feel the mission you support. Oftentimes, it’s nothing like you would expect.”

For more information about the Williamson County Homeless Alliance and how you can get involved, contact Pastor Kevin Riggs at (615) 440-7553 or email him at kevin@franklincommunitychurch.org.

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