County eyes homelessness, Internet
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Feb 25, 2014 | 1084 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Some Bradley County residents not being able to have Internet service at their homes and others not having homes at all were the main topics of discussion at the Bradley County Commission’s Monday night meeting.

During the work session, Dr. Lindsay Hathcock, executive assistant to the Bradley County mayor, gave the Commission reports on one issue that had prompted a lot of phone calls to his office, and another that had significantly impacted the lives of those involved.

Hathcock said a group describing its members as being “citizens striving to be part of the 21st century” has been trying unsuccessfully to get Internet in Bradley County.

He said group members told him they needed it for things like work and school.

“It’s not just for pleasure anymore,” Hathcock noted.

The problem, he explained, is that area companies have so far been unwilling or unable to install equipment like fiberoptic lines in certain areas, limiting the chances of getting affordable Internet service.

Areas of most concern had been the southwestern and northern portions of the county, Hathcock said.

Commissioner Jeff Yarber said this had long been an issue of discussion, and Tennessee’s Competitive Cable and Video Services Act, which was passed in 2008, had dictated what companies could be required to do under the law.

Still, he said he was unsure what the Bradley County government could do to see that a privately held company provides Internet service to all county residents.

A solution could be the installation of wireless Internet “hot spots” in certain areas, said Yarber. However, state law can dictate what counties can do in such areas.

Hathcock said it is necessary that state and local officials work together on this, and he is making plans to attend a meeting on the issue with state and local officials from various areas on March 7 in Decatur.

“We are attempting to find a solution to this problem,” Hathcock said of the county mayor’s office.

Commissioner Adam Lowe said it would be important to consider that there has been a “behavioral shift” in how people use the Internet at home. It is now common for people to spend a large amount of time watching videos online.

Though he acknowledged there were some good educational uses for Internet service, Lowe said he wasn’t sure the county should be “subsidizing entertainment.”

“It’s not just access to information anymore,” he added.

Unless Internet service were to become a public utility, he pointed out that such service was being provided by private companies. Lowe said expanding its services into a new area “has to make sense for the company.”

Commissioner Terry Caywood said Internet service is available through cellphone companies, but some county residents live in rural areas without good cellphone service reception.

He added a lack of Internet service has presented a problem for school children who are increasingly being assigned homework assignments that must be completed online.

“It’s a real dilemma,” Caywood said.

Another topic Hathcock addressed was the number of homeless people in Bradley County.

He said the initiative between Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis and Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland called the Mayors’ Coalition on Care has been looking into figuring out how many local people are homeless, and how to help them.

The coalition, which includes several local nonprofit organizations in its membership, recently conducted a survey of homeless individuals to find out information about things like where they had been sleeping.

Breaking the ice by handing out bags of toiletry items, Hathcock said volunteers had individuals fill out one-page surveys — all within a 24-hour period.

Hathcock said 99 people who said they were homeless completed the survey, which included questions such as whether or not they were living in their cars.

While he said the number of people surveyed was lower than the projected goal, it offered a glimpse at the needs of some of Bradley County’s homeless population.

The county is looking into applying for the Community Development Block Grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Hathcock said. Such funds could be used for things like adding onto the Cleveland Emergency Shelter on Wildwood Avenue or building a second shelter in the county.

Davis said the coalition of local governments and nonprofit organizations began because there had been “a growing homeless need.” At that time, there had been three or four homeless “tent cities” in the county.

Annabel Webb of the USDA’s Urban Development department, whom Hathcock had invited to speak, said the department had a variety of home loan and home repair assistance programs that could either help people get homes or stay in them.

Yarber said that would offer some good help to those working on becoming homeowners or living in a home that was in disrepair, but such programs would not necessarily help some homeless people with their immediate needs.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones said she commended the coalition for turning the county’s attention to that issue. While issues like animal control had been prominent in recent months, she said it was also important to remember the needs of the county’s human residents.

“There comes a time when you say, ‘Enough about the dogs,’” Peak-Jones said. “What about the homeless?”

Davis said there were a couple of grant possibilities which could be pursued to help the homeless in the area, including the one discussed at Monday’s meeting.

Commissioner Bill Winters said the Cleveland-Bradley Community Services Agency, which runs the Cleveland Emergency Shelter, has been working to raise money for a $200,000 goal that would allow them to expand the shelter’s space. However, it is having to raise money outside of the federal funding it receives, and only $50,000 or $60,000 has been raised so far.