Knoxville conducts first homeless youth count

Knoxville conducted its first ever Point-in-Time count of homeless youth last month; the task was easier said than done.

Every year in the last week of January, Knoxville joins communities across America in conducting a Point-in-Time (PIT) count to get an accurate picture of homelessness in the community. This year, Knox County joined a growing number of American cities in trying something new.

On January 26th, the Knoxville-Knox County Homeless Coalition conducted Knox County’s first ever PIT Count of homeless youth.

PIT Counts are annual events that record how many people are experiencing homelessness in a community on a single night. The numbers get reported to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where they go into a national database. On a local level, PIT counts help municipalities address the specific needs of their homeless population and measure if programs already in place are working.

According to Michael Dunthorn, program coordinator for the City of Knoxville’s Office on Homelessness, the desire to do a youth count came from both national and local directions.

“There’s a national effort to try and get a better idea of the youth component of homelessness, but then, locally, there’s a youth homelessness council that has formed as part of the local homeless coalition that has really geared up over the past year, and they also really wanted to do this,” Dunthorn said.

Gabe Cline, chair of the Homeless Coalition, said the youth council formed so the city could address specific needs of the youth population. According to Dunthorn and Cline, youth experiencing homelessness are often trying to finish their education and lack support systems or experience to help them navigate life.

“They don’t necessarily have the independent living skills that some older adults have had. They don’t have typically a job history or a rental history, so when they go to try to start out on their own, they don’t have anything to fall back on,” Cline said.

For the Homeless Coalition, creating something for homeless youth to fall back on was a motivation behind doing this PIT count.

“We all need that kind of support. Most of us were fortunate enough to get it from our families or elsewhere in our communities, but I think for homeless youth, they don’t have those natural support networks. Our coalition is hoping to be able kind of fill some of those gaps,” Cline said.

To get the word out that the count was happening, the Homeless Coalition posted flyers in public libraries and bus transfer stations. It contacted staff at Knox County Schools and Pellissippi State Community College. For Cline, it was a learning experience.

Often youth are not living in shelters or “literally homeless,” living on the street. Youth are typically “couch-surfing,” or moving from place to place, so they can be harder to connect with and may not self-identify as homeless.

“I think a lot of times the youth themselves don’t really identify as ‘yes i’m homeless because my parents kicked me out and I’m moving from friend to friend’,” Cline said.

On the day of the count, volunteers hit the streets looking for youth to survey. In addition to pure numbers, volunteers also tried to collect information about demographics and specific experiences of people they found. Dunthorn was helping to send out groups of volunteers, and Cline was in her office at the Volunteer Ministry Center troubleshooting issues that came up.

“Really for this year, it was almost a learning experience to figure out where we might find folks. Some places we anticipated there was nobody, and then other places we found quite a few,” Dunthorn said.

Cline hopes to do even better in future years.

“What we got back from the school system was that they had information about more youth than we counted. So I think we still have a lot of work to do to figure out how best to engage folks and let them know that there are folks out here who want to try to help them navigate this system,” Cline said.

While Dunthorn said the Office on Homelessness hopes to have their information compiled in a couple weeks, it will be longer before the data is ready for public release. Knoxville’s numbers won’t come out until the national numbers do, and it will be months before HUD releases those.

“I think the extra effort this year will teach us additional information on who’s out there and what their needs really are. Kids are out there, young people are out there. We really want to reach them and help them get on the right path before it becomes a lifelong situation,” Dunthorn said.

Cline agrees that whatever the count reveals, the ensuing effort will be all about rising to meet the needs of Knox County’s youth.

“We think we have a good idea, but you never know for sure until you ask the folks who are experiencing homelessness: ‘what is missing?’,” Cline said. “The next step is, how do you build those services, how do you come together as a community and provide services to meet those needs?”

To view this story with accompanying graphics and audio, visit The Tennessee Journalist at the link below:

http://www.tnjn.com/2017/02/09/knoxville-conducts-first-homeless-youth-count/

 

McClung Museum hosts Darwin Day birthday celebration, teaches kids about evolutionary science

Knoxville families were invited to McClung Museum on Saturday to learn more about evolutionary science and the work of Charles Darwin in honor of Darwin’s upcoming birthday.

Knoxville’s young and old alike were invited to McClung Museum on Saturday for the third annual Darwin Day celebration.

This event was the first of four for Darwin Day at UT. It was an early birthday party for Charles Darwin, who was born February 12, 1809. The event was free and family-oriented, with cake, music and crafts for kids of all ages.

Jen Bauer, a graduate student in Earth and planetary sciences who volunteers with the museum, said Darwin’s birthday party is a great way to get kids thinking about science.

“We’re just interested in promoting evolutionary science in general and dispelling a lot of misinformation that’s out there. We just want kids to be excited about science and not be afraid to ask questions,” she said.

The main way the party got kids thinking about evolutionary science was at the crafts table,where they made their own phylogenetic trees. Phylogenetic trees are diagrams that show evolutionary relationships between different species. The kids could make them out of construction paper, popsicle sticks, and string.

“They can pick the animals that they want to be on the tree, and think about how they’re related to one another and then take it home and hang it up.” Bauer said.

Partygoers could also make buttons, complete a scavenger hunt through McClung Museum and take pictures with the Charles Darwin puppet in attendance.

Each of the children found something to enjoy:

“I like doing the arts and crafts.” — Isabella, age 6.

“So far, I like the museum the best.” — Louis, age 6.

“My favorite part is celebrating my birthday too. I will be nine when Darwin turns 208.” — Rose, age 8.

The party wasn’t just for kids, either. As senior community member Jack Slaughter said, “It’s something fun to do, to get away from the Super Bowl.”

Even Monty the Edmontosaurus, unofficial mascot of McClung Museum, joined in on the fun with a party hat of his very own. Monty’s party hat was made for him by Lindsey Jo Wainwright, Coordinator of Academic Programs at McClung Museum.

“It turns out you can’t buy dinosaur sized party hats,” Wainwright said.

The Darwin Day fun will continue next week with a parade and two lectures. The Evolution and Science Parade will take place on Pedestrian Walkway at 12 pm on Monday, February 13. The Keynote speech will be delivered by Dr. Stacey D. Smith in AMB Cox Auditorium at 7 pm that evening. Smith will discuss this year’s theme, plant adaptation. The final event will be a lecture by Darwin Day Tennessee Founder, Dr. Massimo Pigliucci at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, February 14.

Full details can be found at darwindaytn.org.

This story was also published on The Tennessee Journalist news website. To view it there, please click this link:

http://www.tnjn.com/2017/02/05/mcclung-museum-hosts-darwin-day-birthday-celebration-teaches-kids-on-evolutionary-science/

UT Students to Sponsor Sister March

The University of Tennessee will play host to a march in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington on Friday, January 20th.

More than 200,000 people have committed to attend the march in Washington D.C on the march’s Facebook page, and “sister marches” are being held in all 50 states and in 32 countries. According to the Facebook page, the purpose of the marches is to “send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office.”

The UT Sister March will be the only official march taking place on Friday, the day before the actual inauguration.

The University of Tennessee’s March for Human Rights, sponsored by the Undergraduate Anthropology Association, will gather just an hour after President-elect Trump’s swearing-in ceremony begins. Marchers will meet at 12:30 outside the Humanities and Social Sciences building, known on campus as the HSS amphitheater. The faculty notification about the march stresses that “people of all colors and identities are invited.”

Kendy Altizer, a doctoral candidate in the department of anthropology at UT, is a member of the Knoxville chapter of the Women’s March on Washington, and she was a key organizer in UT’s sister march.

“We started to see sister marches pop up, and it really gained traction. When I applied for a permit for this march, there were less than 200. Now there are 660, all over the world. Over a million people will be attending these. We needed to have one here,” Altizer says.

The march’s Facebook page has 26 RSVPs, but Altizer says she is expecting up to 400 people. There won’t just be students demonstrating – Altizer has been receiving RSVPs from the greater Knoxville community.

Kate Stamper, a senior at UT, will be one of the students speaking at the march.

“I think it’s important to have this march, because a lot of women are not able to travel to DC. It’s a real villager to be able to take off work and go to DC. It gives students who can’t travel a chance to stand against the Trump presidency,” Stamper said.

The official Women’s March on Washington will occur on Saturday, Donald Trump’s first day as United States president. What began as an online event created by a retired attorney in Hawaii is set to be the largest demonstration in protest of the Trump presidency. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are partnered with the march. Celebrities such as Scarlett Johanssen and Katy Perry are expected to attend. Even an Illinois Congressman who is skipping the inauguration will be coming out for the march.

As surprising as the force with which the event spread worldwide may be to some, for Stamper, the reason for marching is simple.

“I want to stand on the right side of history,” she said.

This story was also published on The Tennessee Journalist news website. To view it there, follow this link:

http://www.tnjn.com/2017/01/19/ut-to-host-sister-march-with-womens-march-on-washington/

 

After an Electoral Disappointment, Planned Parenthood Prepares for an Uncertain Future

Planned Parenthood Action Fund backed Hillary Clinton for president since the primary elections, and their candidate suffered a shocking loss. Now, with a confirmed pro-life president and strong Republican majorities in Washington, what are the main concerns and plans of action going forward? Tory Mills of Planned Parenthood in Knoxville sheds some light on what could be on the horizon.

These. Doors. Stay. Open. Those were the words, signed by Cecile Richards, sent out to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund email list the morning after Donald Trump was elected. The emails to supporters, the mobilization for action, and the fears for the future haven’t stopped in the days since.

While abortion has been a hot-button issue since before Planned Parenthood’s founding 100 years ago, the health care provider has been dealing with a resurgence of bad press since the video scandal of 2015. Since then, the health care provider has dealt with a shooting in Colorado, and a threat of widespread clinic closures after new abortion laws were passed in Texas. Those laws were struck down by the Supreme Court, a major victory for Planned Parenthood and its advocates.

However, the new administration brings a new wave of uncertainty. President-elect Trump reaffirmed his pro-life stance in his first post-election interview, casting doubt on the future of Roe v Wade. Vice president-elect Mike Pence was once called “a one-man crusade” to deny Planned Parenthood federal funding.

Planned Parenthood, supporters, and affiliated organizations have been active on social media the hashtag #standwithPP since the election.

Tory Mills, external affairs manager at Planned Parenthood of Knoxville, clarified what those two potential outcomes, an overturning of the Roe decision and federal defunding of Planned Parenthood, would mean for clinics across the nation.

In Trump’s words, “If Roe ever were overturned, it would go back to the states.” For some states, this would mean complete outlawing, something that hasn’t been seen in America since 1973.

“It would create a landscape like we’re already seeing in some states like Texas. We saw dramatic increases in the number of women forgoing birth control and other family planning needs. We actually saw a huge increase in the number of folks who were trying to give themselves abortions. We see this in other countries too, where abortion is illegal. The need for abortion does not go away; people just do it in an unsafe way,” Mills said.

#Prolife groups on Twitter have also been active, viewing the election of Donald Trump as a victory for their cause.

What would abortion made illegal mean for Planned Parenthood?

“I think the biggest concern is less for Planned Parenthood and more for our patients. We do so many things. I’m less concerned for Planned Parenthood; we just celebrated our hundredth anniversary, we are truly not going anywhere, but for the millions of people whom that would affect.”

Mills shared the 2008 statistic that 1 in 3 American women have abortions in their lifetime. As she said “abortion is a part of a lot of people’s lives.”

While overturning a Supreme Court decision would have a big impact, it’s a distant prospect for now. The more immediate consequence for Planned Parenthood to fear is the potential loss of federal funding.

Mills explained that some clinics do receive Title X funding that helps to provide family planning services on a sliding scale. The vast majority of federal money received by Planned Parenthood comes from Medicaid reimbursements. That means Planned Parenthood could be affected not just by defunding, but by cuts to Medicaid and potential repealing or amending of the Affordable Care Act.

Would revoking of funds at the federal level actually close Planned Parenthood health clinics?

“I think it depends on the Planned Parenthood. I think even if it doesn’t close centers, it doesn’t allow us to serve patients in the way that we want to and in the way that is so important to us by making sure that they can afford their birth control and that they’re getting the healthcare they want from the provider that they want,” Mills said.

With all the prospects on the horizon, one would think morale among those on the pro-choice side of the fence would be low. But Mills said in Knoxville, that hasn’t been the case.

“I think I’ve seen over 200 new volunteer applications come across my desk in a week. We had two guys who stopped by yesterday to drop by a handwritten note and a $20 bill. I think people are moving to action, and that is what I hope for, more than kind letters, more than notes, more than donations, I hope that we take this as a call to action.”

Action has been the theme of the emails sent out by Cecile Richards almost daily since the election. Action is also the overarching theme of those on the pro-life side of the fence. While Planned Parenthood is maintaining its stance of the last 100 years: ‘we aren’t going anywhere,’ the fears of what’s in the future aren’t going anywhere either.

 For a more in-depth version of my talk with Tory Mills, click below.

You can also view this story on Medium.com by clicking here.

Knoxville Church Hosts a Service to Cope With Election Day Stress

If Tuesday taught us anything, it’s that every American has different ways of dealing with election day stress. Some turned to family, some to alcohol-centered watch parties, some to ranting on Facebook and Twitter. For The Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan in Knoxville, the answer was prayer.

When they saw the stress their congregation was under as the world waited to see who would be the next president, the Reverends Cal Calhoun and Caroline Vogel hatched an idea. For half an hour on Tuesday night, before the polls closed and the obsessive CNN watching began, they would offer their congregation a place to come together and quietly pray for the nation.

“We’ve been listening to our parishioners, and people are worried and fearful and anxious. There’s just a lot of emotions floating around,” Vogel said of why they decided to have this service.

When some think of political prayer services, it calls to mind fervent vigils of conservative evangelicals praying for the election of one particular candidate. That was not the cast at Good Samaritan. There was very little discussion of candidates as the dozens in attendance slid into the pews. Instead, there were quiet greetings and expressions of nerves.

“We wanted to create a place for people to have a sacred space around something that’s making them feel anxious,” Vogel said.

The small crowd prayed for wisdom, understanding, tolerance, and perseverance in our nation. The atmosphere during the service was serene, and the only political propaganda in sight was the Tennessee-shaped “I voted” sticker still worn by Rt. Rev. George Young, bishop of East Tennessee.

After sharing communion, the parishioners greeted each other with smiles and optimism. When asked why this service might have been helpful in calming election night nerves, Vogel said “I think our spiritual life, and hopefully our faith, can ground us in a way that very few things can in the world.”

Attendees included church members and stressed-out citizens who were told about the service and wanted a place to unwind.

For an audio version of this story, click the link below:

Community Watchers Weigh in on Sex Offender Residency Requirements

All but a few Knox County elementary schools have registered sex offenders living within a mile. But according to a school security officer and a neighborhood watch leader, its not a problem in their communities.

If a parent found out that a registered sex offender was living 1,001 feet away from their child’s school, you might expect a reaction based out of fear. But for community watchdogs in Knoxville, fear is not often the case.

Most citizens are aware that a national sex offender registry exists. Those convicted of sexual offenses are usually required to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which is a federal law. The Tennessee registry allows you to see a photo, an address, and information about why the person is on the registry.

Over 20 states have enacted residency restrictions for those on the registry. In Tennessee, no sex offender, regardless of whether their crime involved a minor, may live within 1,000 feet of any “public school, private or parochial school, licensed day care center, other child care facility, public park, playground, recreation center, or public athletic field available for use by the general public,” according to section 211 of Tennessee’s legislation.

Beyond that 1,000 feet, there’s wiggle room.

An investigation of the registry shows that of the 50 elementary schools in Knox County, all but seven have at least one registered offender living within a mile of school property, and all 50 have offenders within three miles. Presumably, this means convicted sex offenders living in the same neighborhoods as young children.

Jennifer Mirtes, head of Inskip Park and Pool Neighborhood Watch in North Knoxville, says her group is aware of both the offender locator and the 17 offenders living within a mile of Inskip Elementary School. The Inskip Community Association includes a watchlist with its monthly newsletter.

Mirtes said that while the close proximity concerns her as a community member, she’s never seen any problems occur in the neighborhood.

“I’ve been out trick or treating with my kids when they were little and those people kept their lights off,” she says.

Mirtes and the mission of the Inskip neighborhood watch group stress simply keeping an eye on the neighborhood so “bad elements know this is not the place to do business.” In terms of sex offenders, Mirtes’ watchful eye has never observed anything but compliance.

Tony Boles, one of two security officers at Pond Gap School in South Knoxville, says the residency requirement is fair, but “it could definitely be pushed back a few hundred feet.”

When Pond Gap has issues with people being on school property who shouldn’t be there, it’s never a sex offender issue.

“They know the laws. They’re smart people,” he said.

“Not to say there aren’t any in the area; there are. But we’ve never had an issue.”

How many registered offenders live nearby your neighborhood school? This map can show you both a one and three mile radius of any elementary school in Knox County