MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis mother said she and her daughters are living in hotel rooms and some nights even in their car as they try to find an affordable place to live.

“We try to keep the basic stuff we need with us,” Ebony Johnson said as she showed us her trunk full of belongings.

“It’s been really tough trying to find a place,” Johnson said.

Last November, Johnson’s landlord sold their rental home in Memphis. She said she and her two children had to immediately move out. She said her credit has made down payments pricier and then tack on moving fees.

“It is hard to get all of that money at one time,” she said.

Even though she said she works a full-time job at a local grocery store, her paychecks are going towards a storage unit, no kitchen means they have to eat out more and on nights they can’t find a place to crash, they get a hotel room. She said some nights, they have to stay in their car.

“I can’t even explain it. It’s a felling that no one will ever know. It’s a terrible feeling,” she said.

Johnson says she’s has reached out to various nonprofits, and they’ve put her in a queue. She waits for a break or enough savings to find an affordable and safe place near her kids’ schools.

It’s a story becoming too familiar.

Across the country, the homeless crisis is getting worse. Shelby County is no exception.

Encampments have popped up next to interstates, in woods and old cemeteries. People finding shelter under bridges and on the side of the street.

The stories are all different. The solution is not one size fits all.

“There are service providers. There are housing providers. Community leaders are actually wanting to move this issue,” said Errin Woods with the Community Alliance for the Homeless.

Basically, they gather all service providers from different sectors to work together and problem-solve. In September, they discussed this year’s homeless count.

“We know there’s an increase in our community,” Woods said in the meeting.

A majority were in a shelter, but some were not.

“There are always people who can’t go into a congregate shelter setting,” said Jessica Hourai with the Hospitality Hub, a nonprofit working to end homelessness.

She said hundreds of people can’t get into a shelter, because they have been banned due to a mental health issue, substance abuse or a health condition. They may not have a valid ID or don’t want to separate their family.

That’s who they want to help.

The Hub is building tiny homes to house those people while staff connects them to services and then, permanent housing. The idea started as a pilot program.

“We were able to bring people in from literal homelessness out on the street. Most of the time chronically homeless for years. Getting them housed on average in 31 days,” Hourai said.

On the other side of town, Whitney Fullerton told WREG Investigators what she’s witnessed is heartbreaking.

“The numbers are far higher than what people realize,” she said. “Homelessness is a much bigger and broader issue than most people realize.”

Fullerton is the program director for the Lisieux Community, which is working to help women surviving homelessness.

“They live on the streets, in abandoned houses, in cars,” she said. “Some are marginally housed, so they jump place to place and stay where they can when they can.”

The nonprofit passes out care packages and, in 2021, opened a little home off Summer where women can go during the day to get a hot shower, food, wash their clothes, do arts and crafts and take a nap — no questions asked.

“All the women we serve have various different struggles,” she said. “But they all faced trauma.”

There were veterans, families and children in the most recent count. In fact, Memphis Shelby County Schools said almost 3,000 of their students faced homelessness at some point last school year.

Woods said they have committees examining that and much more but believes a big focus must be more affordable housing.

“That’s a big barrier that’s across the board. However, we are trying to move the gap a little bit,” she said.

Inflation compounds the problem, and rent is increasing at its fastest rate than it has in decades.

Johnson said she’s waving the red flag. Her patience is running thin.

“They need more resources to help people,” she said. “To get over the hurdle to get started, it’s hard. It’s really hard.”

For more information

For more information on the Community Alliance for the Homeless: click here

To find out more about the tiny homes and work the Hospitality Hub is doing: click here

If you wan to learn more about the Lisieux Community: click here

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