By Paige Atwell
It’s no surprise that Williamson County is consistently said to be one of the greatest places to live by both tourists and locals alike. After all, with top-notch schools, a rapidly growing real estate market, safe neighborhoods and beautiful scenery, its reputation speaks for itself. However, despite its pristine image, Williamson County has very distinct needs in its community, including the pressing one of finding a place to accommodate its ever-growing homeless population.
Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “Homelessness? In Williamson County? One of the wealthiest in the country?” But according to local pastor Kevin Riggs, this epidemic is very present in our community. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean
it isn’t there. “The homeless in our county are unique,” explains Kevin. “Very few are transients (but that number is growing), very few panhandle and most were born and raised in our community. I get phone calls almost daily of people needing a place to live.”
Kevin became personally invested in the cause about five or six years ago when he met a couple living in their car on Natchez Street. However, he vividly remembers meeting with the mayor ten years ago to discuss community homelessness. “I told the mayor if we did not act and do something then, in ten years (that would be today), we would be so far behind the curve that we would never catch up,” says Kevin. “That is where we are today.”
Since then, Kevin and others in the Williamson County community have been actively working to solve this problem. As the pastor of Franklin Community Church, Kevin helps run their nonprofit ministry, Franklin Community Development. For the past five years, their ministry has helped provide emergency shelter to the homeless in our community and even operate a small group home for men.
Over the years, their efforts as a ministry and church have been covered actively by local media, gaining them the traction and recognition they needed to take their efforts to the next level. With more and more people reaching out to see how they could help, the Williamson County Homeless Alliance was formed. Their main goal? To secure permanent housing for the homeless in Williamson County.
Despite their efforts, there is still a large part of the community questioning whether or not this initiative was the best decision for our city. “There are two big challenges to this: First, is the attitude known as NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard). The second is the belief, ‘If you build it they will come,’” explains Kevin. “From my perspective, as a pastor, both that attitude and that belief are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. In reality, people experiencing homelessness are already here. If done correctly, a shelter will benefit everyone in the community and make our city even more desirable.”
With the support of the Williamson County community, all that’s left is to solidify space and continue to rally the necessary people and funds to make the project come to fruition. “Right now, we are collecting a database of email addresses we can use to notify and update people. A second thing you can do is to talk to your pastor and church leaders about this need. We need all churches to support this initiative with both prayer and finances,” explains Kevin. “Right now, we are not ready to take donations, but that time is coming. Third, I always ask people to contact their aldermen and commissioners and mayors to encourage them to get behind and support this initiative. We are gathering facts, studying best practices, networking and talking with the city about where a shelter could go under current zoning regulations. The goal is to create a transitional sanctuary that ministers to the whole person, providing a place of rest, recovery and holistic assistance.”
To learn more about the Williamson County Homeless Alliance, how you can help and be added to their notification list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.