A $1 million federal grant is making all the difference at the Johnson City Downtown Day Center, a facility in downtown Johnson City operated by the ETSU College of Nursing.
The center assists homeless individuals in Johnson City, helping them find jobs, housing and providing them with a level of normalcy.
The money will be used to help construct a new facility to replace the building that occupants say they have woefully outgrown.
“Right now if we wanted to have more employees, we’d have nowhere to put them,” said Jennifer Whitehead, the coordinator of the Johnson City Downtown Day Center. “We’ve done case management in the clothes closet because somebody needed to be seen right there.”
The building currently contains a clinic, a shower, two washing machines, a few computers and several storage rooms.
These amenities, however, have often been inadequate in caring for visitors to the center and will be expanded when the university constructs the new facility in the parking lot beside the building.
The new facility will contain three showers, six washers and dryers, a food pantry, two computer rooms and a larger dayroom.
In addition to the larger space, the facility will also be able to increase the number of days healthcare providers visit the center from two days to five.
The university has at most two years to finish the building. In the meantime, the day center will continue normal operations.
As is, the facility often acts as the last resort for homeless individuals who have been turned away at other shelters.
“It’s a complex situation that has gotten them to where they are right now,” Whitehead said. “We have a very good understanding of mental health and substance abuse. We’re very lenient as far as behaviors.”
In addition to serving the city’s homeless population, the center also acts as an educational tool for ETSU students who want to obtain a multifaceted understanding of the healthcare system.
Becca Ridgeway is an ETSU student who interns at the facility and said the center offers students a look at integrated healthcare.
“It’s all here,” Ridgeway said. “This is an amazing learning experience because I actually get to do case management, be with the clients, get a taste of what social work is all about instead of being behind a book.”
Whitehead said the staff appreciates the facility ETSU has given them, but they’re looking forward to working in a new building.
“We love this building and it’s been really good to us these past 10 years,” Whitehead said, “but our guys, they just deserve this really nice place that we’re getting ready to get.”