Franklin group lays out blueprint for a community-focused homeless shelter in Williamson County


Franklin group lays out blueprint for a community-focused homeless shelter in Williamson County

PHOTO: Franklin Community Church Pastor Kevin Riggs runs through a presentation during a community meeting on the subject of a homeless shelter in Williamson County. / Photo by John McBryde

By JOHN McBRYDE

Before he got too far in his presentation Monday night on the need for a homeless shelter in Williamson County, Franklin Community Church Pastor Kevin Riggs wanted to thwart a couple of the standard objections heard when a community seeks a solution for a particular issue.

One objection goes by the acronym NIMBY, or, ‘not in my back yard,’ while the other stems from the movie Field of Dreams.

“Just to say upfront, there are two main objections we hear over and over again about putting a shelter in our city,” Riggs told a packed Otey Hall at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Franklin. “The first objection is ‘not in my backyard.’ Everybody wants one, but when you suggest that it go in this place or that place, it’s ‘not in my backyard.’ As a minister and as a follower of Jesus Christ, that’s the wrong answer. It should be, ‘please put it in my backyard so that I can help.’ … That’s one of the things you run into, whereas studies have shown that a shelter does not bring down property values, and in some cases it raises property values because it is solving a problem.

“The second objection you often here is, ‘well, if you build it, they will come.’ And let me answer that as honestly as I know how… yeah!”

Riggs has led his church in the operation of an emergency shelter for homeless people for a number of years and is a leading advocate on the issue of homelessness in Franklin and Williamson County. Now, he is banding together with others in the community to jumpstart a push toward building a homeless shelter in Franklin.

The shelter would be open every day and would be more than just a place where homeless people could get out of the weather, Riggs said. It would be a newer-model shelter that would bring a holistic approach to the problem of homelessness. The facility would provide help in a variety of ways.

Speaking alongside Riggs were Franklin Alderman-at-Large Brandy Blanton; Williamson Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen; Gregg Elliott, lifelong Franklin resident who was construction director for Habitat for Humanity; and John Bessler, who founded the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate with his wife in 1992. They make up the core of what will be a community-focused solution for the issue of homelessness in Williamson County.

At the conclusion of the presentation, which included numerous questions from attendees, folks were signing up and indicating their particular skills and talents.

“A lot of this conversation came around to, what does this partnership look like?” Largen said. “How does the community come together to really address this issue? … We want to really make sure we can hit that immediate need now, and I think that’s where the talents and skills of everybody in this room and your friends and families and neighbors who have expertise in different ways, and we can start with this immediate need for a homeless shelter in Williamson County.”

Blanton spoke to the necessity of making sure occupants of the shelter weren’t required to, for instance, attend a church service in exchange for a place to stay.

“You serve somebody because it’s the right thing to do and because you love and you show Jesus’ love, but it’s not to get something in return,” she said. … “We do feel very strongly that this is given with no strings attached. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, but Jesus wouldn’t have cared what you did for him in return. He did what he did because he loved.”

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