By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — The temperatures were more suited for Alaska than the southern state of Tennessee. Nightly temperatures below ten degrees created a crisis and a life threatening situation, the likes of which had not been seen in Knoxville in decades. The White flag, a signal for the homeless to come in out of the cold was hung by the local shelter. Despite this all call, several hundred still remained outside under the bridge.
As the crisis grew, a plea went out around the city by council woman Seema Singh Perez for churches and other organizations to take in the homeless during the frigid temperatures; side effects of the Polar Bomb that hit the east coast.
Former House of Representatives member Gloria Johnson felt more needed to be done and after obtaining permission from the President, Knox County Democratic Headquarters was transformed into an emergency shelter open from dark to daylight.
Using social media and her personal contacts, Johnson was able to gather bedding, sleeping bags, pillows, clothing, and plenty of food to serve the homeless while they sheltered in place. The donations from the community resulted in the shelter being able to provide lunches for the working homeless and food for all who wanted it, to take and eat during the day until the temporary shelter reopened for the night.
Gloria, who spent the night each night at the shelter to serve the people, had help in persuading the homeless to trust her and come in from the cold. Eddie Long, publisher of The Amplifier a homeless newspaper, and longtime advocate for the homeless, went under the bridge, brought in people from the cold, and stayed each night also. Volunteers from the community came in to bring and cook breakfast and to clean the facility during the daylight hours.
Following the crisis, the donated sleeping bags were given to Long to distribute to the homeless he works with every day, the extra foods were taken and given out at the homeless locations around the city, and all extra clothing was put up in anticipation of the next cold crisis, should this event happen again before winters end.