Pubdate: Mon, 29 Dec 2003
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)
Copyright: 2003 The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co.
Author: AIMEE EDMONDSON, Memphis Commercial Appeal


On Any Given Day In Shelby County, 2,000 Find Themselves Without A Place To 

MEMPHIS - Under the stench of urine and an unwashed blanket, Johnnie Jones 
dug a wedding band out of his jeans pocket and slipped it on his left ring 

Addiction robbed him of his marriage years ago.

"It's alcohol. Not crack," the homeless 45-year-old said.

Jones has been on the streets for the past two decades, a mainstay at the 
soup kitchen and day-labor line.

His family now consists of the other blanket-covered heaps of humanity 
dotting the Memphis landscape on a frosty November night.

He and two others were huddled amid dirty clothes and trash on a loading 
dock at the corner of Front and Pontotoc last month, where police and 
homeless advocates found him as they fanned out across the city through the 
early morning hours for their annual head count.

The volunteer effort is headed by Pat Morgan, chief of the private and 
publicly funded advocacy group Partners for the Homeless, which works to 
match services with the needs of the street dwellers.

About 20 volunteers usually find some 250 people on the streets each year, 
and though tallies aren't in yet, they expected to have a similar total 
this year.

On any given day in Shelby County, about 2,000 people are literally 
homeless - on the streets, in emergency shelters, jail, short-term mental 
health facilities or some type of transitional housing.

The counters know where to find the ones on the street, pointing flashlight 
beams into overpass nooks and crannies, downtown around the mall, trickling 
into Midtown and out Summer Avenue.

Morgan interviews each quickly to gauge what types of services they need.

"You got a place to stay tonight?" she asked again and again.

She knows so many of the homeless by name, begging them to get treatment 
through a variety of programs offered around town.

Morgan said there are almost always beds available at many of the alcohol 
and drug treatment centers that serve the homeless.

But staying high is worth staying outside to Kevin Johnson.

He said he stays with his sister from time to time and makes it to the 
emergency shelter on the coldest nights.

Homeless for several years, he loves to work with his hands, be it 
construction work or laying bricks.

"I work. It's just my drugs. It's just my addiction," Johnson said.

The volunteers found him walking south on Fourth Street with a beer in his 
hand. He admitted he was heading to a dealer's house, but one look at the 
police accompanying Morgan made him change his mind.

Not long afterward, another homeless man was easy to spot "fishing" at 
Exchange and Second.

The 39-year-old from Marked Tree, Ark., had just used a coat hanger to fish 
a rumpled five-dollar bill from a self-service pay-to-park lot.

He said he spends about $200 a week on cocaine and scores dollar bills 
pretty regularly at the parking lots.

"I need treatment. I know I do," said the man, who asked that his name not 
be used.

Typically the volunteers find more than 50 homeless people downtown. Last 
week, they found only 20, and most of those were not out in the open.

The police attribute this, in part, to tougher enforcement of panhandling 
laws in recent months.

"The tolerance is gone," said Memphis police officer Tommy Mote.

Working the downtown area in plainclothes and an unmarked car, Mote and 
officer Ronnie Williams write tickets for panhandling and other 
misdemeanors and, like Morgan, know many of the homeless by name.

The misdemeanor citation amounts to a warning, and if someone is caught a 
second time they are found in violation of a court order.

The citations force many into jail or drug and alcohol rehabilitation. But 
the sobriety is too often a temporary state before the police see the same 
folks out on the street and under the influence.

The officers are empathetic.

"How you doing Jimmy?" Mote greeted Jimmy Seymour in the near-deserted 
Court Square.

Seymour tugged at his beard incessantly.

"I'm kind of down today."

A few yards away, James Shannon was bedded down for the night in the Court 
Square gazebo.

Shannon, 46, said he's been homeless for four years. He said he lost his 
right leg in a shooting when he was 18. Crutches lay beside his sleeping bag.

"They say I have mental illness. I say OK.

"They say I grew up like that, but I don't know what it is."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart