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MTSU’s Social Work program lends a strong helping hand to efforts to serve Murfreesboro’s homeless population

by Gina K. Logue

T

he City of Murfreesboro projects its population to grow to 228,000 by 2035. It’s been the fastest-growing city in Tennessee for the last three years and is one of the 15 fastest-growing large cities in the United States. Such rapid population growth inevitably gives rise to a more somber development—a spike in the number of individuals who can’t afford the high costs of having a place to live. Forty-one percent of homeless individuals in Murfreesboro have been without permanent shelter for less than six months, but 30 percent have been homeless for two years or longer, according to data collected in 2017 by the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol nonprofit organization. The Murfreesboro 2035 comprehensive plan calls for providing a mix of housing options, including a comprehensive solution to meeting the needs of the city’s most vulnerable citizens. The question local agencies that work tirelessly to serve the homeless population are working to answer is “How do we achieve that goal?” Last July, MTSU Social Work faculty and students presented a plan to the Murfreesboro City Council that

addresses another key component of the local housing crisis—the need for a centralized campus of social service agencies to serve the homeless and those at risk of losing current housing. The campus would remove many of the barriers that individuals and families face in accessing the quality support and services required to regain health and economic self-sufficiency. The proposed campus—originally the idea of Scott Foster, founder of the nonprofit local outreach center Journey Home—would house satellite offices of agencies that provide assistance to the homeless. One such model investigated by MTSU students is Haven of Hope in San Antonio. That 22-acre campus includes 30 agencies dedicated to providing food, health care, child care, job training, and even pet care. In addition to preparing the proposal and tailoring it to Murfreesboro’s specific needs, the students gained valuable experience at Journey Home, working 20–25 hours each week with homeless individuals last May– June. All the work put in by then-graduate student Jackie Jones ('17) and two undergraduates, Justin Oliver and Samantha Cantrell, was made possible by a $15,000 grant from the city council. Ultimately, a city council panel funded a part-time community liaison position in partnership with the decades-old Homeless Alliance of Rutherford County. Jones, now an MTSU alumna with a Master of Social Work degree, holds that position. She is currently funded to work two days a week on the project through this September. “My role as a community liaison is to continue to build relationships between nonprofits, government agencies, and the community through communication, advocacy, and capacity building,” Jones said.

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Expanding the College: MTSU and the state combine funds for a much-needed new academic building for the College of Behavioral and Health Sci...

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Expanding the College: MTSU and the state combine funds for a much-needed new academic building for the College of Behavioral and Health Sci...

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