New  homeless outreach coordinator already seeing progress

Feb. 1, 2024

New homeless outreach coordinator already seeing progress

Johnson City’s homeless outreach coordinator has had a busy start since assuming her role on Nov. 6. During her more than 10-years of service with the City’s code enforcement team, Lorena Bennett was a tireless advocate for the community’s homeless population in an unofficial capacity. Now, she has the tools and resources to make a bigger impact.

One of Bennett’s primary responsibilities is connecting those who need help to resources that can improve their quality of life. This requires a tremendous amount of outreach and networking within the homeless community and with the agencies that serve them.

“During my first few months on the job, I’ve worked to gain the trust of those experiencing degrees of homelessness. To do this, I’ve visited camps, walked train tracks and hit the streets of Johnson City. I’ve also built relationships with area agencies that serve the homeless, and I’m constantly learning about what resources are available to those in need. Once the individual’s needs and agencies that can provide help are identified, we all work together to put the puzzle together. It is a lot of juggling, but it is worth it if we can help someone,” said Bennett.    

The homeless outreach coordinator is a position within the Community Policing Unit of the Johnson City Police Department. Officers often accompany Bennett on her visits within the homeless community.

“Before I started this job, officers in this unit already had good relationships with many of the homeless in our area. I’ve been able to build on those relationships, and now, I’m making myself as visible as possible so the homeless know that I am their ally,” added Bennett.

Providing assistance to our homeless population doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process of assessing needs, which could be anything from finding safe and affordable housing to accessing mental health services. Then, there’s paperwork and meetings with both Bennett and the agencies providing assistance.

“We try to line each person up with the resources they need to succeed in their ultimate goal of independent living,” Bennett explained.

While getting assistance could take a while, Bennett’s dedication is showing results. Since being named homeless outreach coordinator, her work has directly helped to place six individuals. Four of those were reunited with their families, and two were placed in local housing. She has also provided assistance to other agencies that helped locate housing for eight other individuals.

Bennett is dedicated to helping those who want to be housed and thinks our community is too.

“I don’t believe any one person can solve the homeless crisis, but I do believe that Johnson City is on the right track to help those who desire independent living,” she said.