907 E Main St, Johnson City, TN info@daveforjc.com 423.943.2581

Homelessness Policy Proposal I

Silently headlining the discussion on local homelessness is a single topic that we as a collective body have failed to properly address.  Funding, information dissemination, land, and other issues are important topics, but they should not be the front line of a collective discussion – in reality, these are all symptoms of a root cause. The root of many of our challenges in response efforts is, simply put, a lack of coordination.

Many efforts have been made over the years to unite services under one simple model, most recently with ARCH, but the evidence is clear that we have not united as intended. Instead of moving as a coordinated team, local organizations and the city individually pursue our goals, meeting occasionally, such as in the Johnson City Joint Task Force (whose measure of success depends on who you ask). Many services overlap and many gaps in care present themselves due to this ‘tangle of services’ as opposed to a well-threaded safety net.

Couple this fact with the city’s unique position – the city’s relationship with nonprofits is at a very low point, perhaps an all-time low.  The city’s optics on homelessness cooperation are equally low.

Taking this climate into account, I have a proposal that will shift us to a more coordinated playing field, rebuild trust between the city and our local organizations, and of course publicly show our teamwork throughout the process. My proposal is the creation of a new position within our Municipality – a position known as Aid Procurement Coordinator, or City Liaison.

  • Liaison: The first goal of the APC will be to serve as the communications point between the city and local nonprofits. This individual should develop an intimate understanding of the operations and needs of all area nonprofits. In coordination with area organizations and the City Commission, the liaison will play a critical role in drafting potential long-term city response and involvement in any community efforts.
  • Aid Procurement: The second goal of the APC will be to serve as a donation checkpoint between local businesses and local nonprofits. As an official with an intimate understanding of the needs of area nonprofits, the APC will be uniquely qualified to solicit and coordinate potential donations and discounted services from local businesses seeking to donate. This, of course, does not replace the need for individuals to donate to their local nonprofits; rather, this will give area organizations a long-term advocate in the local business sector.

With a city representative in the mix, we can keep a finger to the pulse of response efforts and coordinate aid where it is most effective without forcing compromise or infringing on the independence of our area’s diverse nonprofit organizations.

From Retail to Technology: A Needed Shift

Many would say that Johnson City is currently doing well for itself, and I would not disagree at all.

We are revitalizing our downtown, we have an innate connection to a large hospital system, and our wages across the population are only slightly below average.

Unfortunately, despite the beautiful look of our local economy on the surface, there is an incoming disaster for which we are not prepared – the Retail Apocalypse.

Johnson City has an above average reliance on Retail employment – approximately 14% of our local employment is retail, which is 20.8% higher than the national rate. Tennessee – our area in particular – is on a constantly dwindling list of places where Retail is still seeing growth. Historically, this would be a good marker of a healthy consumer market with a high level of disposable income. However, in today’s shifting business climate, this reliance on retail employment is increasingly becoming a liability. 

While it is great that we are acquiring a Five Below, a new Subway (fun fact: it will be the third subway in a 1/2-mile radius), and new construction, we cannot be ignorant to the tides of change. Since Q1 2014, the number of store closings has outpaced store openings every quarter – and it is now a 2:1 ratio.

K-Mart, H.H. Gregg, Toys R Us, and our local L&S Electronics, to name a few, are not outliers – they are now the norm. Claire’s, Charlotte Russe, Sears, J.C. Penney, Barnes & Noble, Payless, and GNC are on USA Today’s Watch list. Aeropostale just finalized its Bankruptcy plans. If that list is not frightening alone, consider this: it is estimated that 50% of malls across America will be closed by 2023.

Johnson City, if it wishes to continue to enjoy prosperity and growth, must embrace a new industry and plan today to replace the jobs that will be lost over the next 5-10 years. Doubling down on Retail, building more space when entire streets are vacant, and stubbornly holding out on change until the last minute is a poor policy. Failure to plan is a plan to fail. The prosperous cities of 2020 and beyond will be those that embrace the industries of 2020 and beyond. As a city, only 3.52% of our employment is science and technology – 52.7% less than the National Average. Compare our IT and IT-related employment to cities like Chattanooga – the Silicon Valley of the South – and it is clear that we are currently behind the curve.

With Municipal Broadband on its way through BrightRidge, with ETSU in our back yard, and with a vibrant blend of hometown/bustling city atmosphere, we have what it takes to embrace technology and innovation. In fact, we have what it takes to become a key player – all we need is a clear vision and leadership bold enough to chase it.

If elected, I will strongly advocate advancements in Technology for our area. As the only member of the board with a background in Computer Science, I will bring a unique tech-focused perspective to city planning, management, and development.

The world is rapidly changing, so we have to make a choice: become a city of yesterday or become a city of tomorrow.

For me the choice is clear – and that is why on November 6, 2018, I ask for your vote to help us Build For Tomorrow.

Homelessness

On a recent Q&A session, one question that garnered a lot of attention was in regards to combating the rising epidemic of homelessness in our area.

Homelessness is an uncomfortable topic that is largely ignored in local politics. However, the fact that it’s uncomfortable does not change the fact that it must be discussed. As a city leader, one has to be prepared to tackle both softball and hardball scenarios and answer to the community about one’s choices.

Looming over the homelessness debate is the uncomfortable fact that increased funding attracts homeless populations from outside the area. According to a study by UC Davis, “locally, more funding leads to greater family homelessness because families move to regions with more generous funding. In the presence of such migration, local governments may be incentivized to under-provide homeless services.”

For fear of being swarmed beyond their individual capabilities, many municipalities simply avoid the issue. However, I am of the opinion that this fact is no excuse to ignore a fellow human being in need.

Battling homelessness is no easy task, but with the right mindset we can do our part.

Point Number One: To overcome this barrier to a solution, we must ensure the cooperation of adjacent municipalities. Without the cooperation of our neighboring towns and cities, we cannot cause meaningful change. Homelessness is not something that Johnson City can tackle alone – we need all local communities to do their part. Johnson City does not have the capability to support all the homeless of Appalachia – other cities surrounding us must increase their response efforts in tandem with ours in order to fairly spread the burden and prevent a ‘run on resources’ that does nothing but cause more harm in the long run.

Point Number Two: Our solution to homelessness must involve upward mobility for those we seek to assist. If our homelessness plan of action does not include addiction services, mental health services, and job training services, we will make no progress on the binds that keep those in need in the cycle of homelessness: drug addiction, mental health crises, and simply falling through the cracks of society’s safety nets.

As Commissioner, I will advocate for goal-oriented policies that seek to reduce the homeless population instead of simply manage it. We must cooperate with the numerous aid organizations in our area to move as one cohesive unit on all fronts simultaneously: emergency shelter, temporary housing, long term housing, food, medical, mental health, addiction, and workforce re-entry. A failure on any one front compromises the mission of healing and rehabilitation of our neighbors in need.

Developing sustainable, long term approaches to community problems is an integral part of Building For Tomorrow.