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Challenging and complicated

City, county discuss homelessness issues

By ZOË WATKINS - zwatkins@t-g.com
Posted 2/18/23

The first meeting of the Joint Homeless Task Force was held on Tuesday evening. Sixteen of the 18 members, both from the city and county, were present to discuss and research the overall homeless …

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Challenging and complicated

City, county discuss homelessness issues


The first meeting of the Joint Homeless Task Force was held on Tuesday evening. Sixteen of the 18 members, both from the city and county, were present to discuss and research the overall homeless population. 

And words like challenging, difficult, and complicated dominated the conversation. 

The committee is led by County Commissioner Drew Hooker. “We just want this to be a very informed situation where we can identify what’s going on in our community and be ahead of it. I’ve talked to many communities who wished they’d done something earlier,” said Hooker. 

By “researching” the homeless population, they hope to bring forward action items in addition to connecting people to current resources.

Reaching out

Shelbyville police officer Letisia Diaz is one of the members. She maintains a list and photos of all homeless people in Shelbyville. Depending on how one defines “homeless,” whether they’re “coach surfers” or living in a tent, Diaz said Shelbyville has around 30 homeless people living outside. 

“Because of interactions with people on the streets, I have come to know many, many people and the hardships they face and the choices they make,” said Diaz. “A lot of them are locals that turn into homeless.”

Of course, many of those choices tie back to substance abuse, according to Diaz. She said often they don’t seek help because they have low self-esteem.

“They need people that actually love them and show them love and not let them stab them in the back. They don’t trust anybody with good reason because that’s all they’ve experienced,” said Diaz. 

However, others are genuinely searching for a home and living day-to-day. Typically, they are the ones affected by the lack of affordable housing and increasing rent prices. According to task force member and council member Stephanie Isaacs, public housing in Shelbyville is at or near capacity and there is a waiting list. 

Needs vary — some need medical care, some need a job, some need housing, some need mental help. 

There are resources in Shelbyville. There’s the Shelbyville Soup Kitchen, which serves meals from 3:30 - 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 336 S. Cannon Blvd.

Food for the soul

Two of the members of the task force are pastors Jeff Rasnick and Jimmy West. They say many churches throughout the county donate food and resources to the homeless population. 

“We take care of a lot of food...and we help when it comes to bills, or places to stay,” said Rasnick, who is pastor at First Baptist Church in Shelbyville. “We try to give food, and give food, and give food. We’ve given out probably, over the last decade, over a million pounds of food. But food goes away quickly.”

Also, Brenda Knight, who attended the meeting, is the managing director for Cross Shelter Project and founder and president of Castle Ministries. They have a 90-day program that serves as transitional housing for the homeless, in addition to helping them find employment during that period.   

They also have a “warming station,” at 206 Madison St., which allows up to 12 unhoused people to warm up and get a hot meal on cold nights.

Despite resources, many simply enjoy the lifestyle of being homeless. The many “types” of homeless situations makes the situation “complicated,” according to Rasnick.

By the end of the hour-long meeting, members pinpointed that the majority of the problems stem from drug-addiction and violent offenders who are typically mentally ill. 

“Mental health and drugs, I think those are really the ones where it’s going to be the hardest to identify things to help resolve that, but is by far, the most important,” said Hooker. 


Bedford County Zoning Director Chris White says he’s had a lot of experiences with the homeless through living on the Shelbyville square, some even making death threats and doing indecent exposure to him and his wife. 

“Compassion goes both ways. It should be bi-lateral: compassion for people who are victimized by the homeless and compassion for the homeless,” he said. 

Member Lt. Chris Cook, who works at the Bedford County Jail, said the difficulty lies in that these offenders aren’t in jail long enough to get in a program and have an intervention. 

Officer Diaz said the situation can be difficult to handle when getting people mental help as they have to say certain words, typically words of harm, either to themselves or others.

The group identified that there needs to be more substance abuse help. However, the challenge is getting people to admit and comply with the help. 

Task force member Misty Pellar said, “Who’s to say that we’re honing in on these people when we’re trying to get them these services, what’s the next step when they say, ‘I don’t want your help’?” 

The task force’s next meeting will be on March 14 at 5:15 in the Community Room in the historic courthouse. 

“I think we will need to spend the majority of our time at the next meeting focused on conversations about our violent offenders and drugs and mental health,” said Hooker. They also plan to compile and discuss the resources available in the area and make those more well-known.