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The Foyer: A Low-Barrier Housing-Focused Overnight Emergency Shelter

The Foyer is located in the old thrift store on the grounds of the Salvation Army (409 North Broadway) with oversight, staffing and management by Volunteer Ministry Center. The shelter provides approximately up to thirty (30) beds to vulnerable and hard-to-reach individuals experiencing homelessness with an emphasis on individuals gathering under the I-40 overpass and Broadway. 

    The shelter is paired with access to community social services that promote the entree to permanent housing through the Housing First philosophy. This “front room” of a shelter with a housing focus can solve the experience of homelessness while meeting some basic needs not “the other way around.” 


The Foyer began operations in December 2019 and is open from 7:00 pm - 7:00 am, seven days a week. To access the shelter, individuals are referred by Street Outreach workers as staffed by VMC, Community Action Committee (CAC), Helen Ross McNabb and other social service providers.  

What is Low-Barrier?

The most acute, highest need people are prioritized for shelter such as who are at greatest risk for severe health and safety consequences if not sheltered. 

The shelter is for those who need it the most, not “first come, first served.”

Not “rule compliant” but “safety compliant.”

No drug and alcohol testing.  

No income requirements.

No required “housing-readiness” to utilize shelter.

Allows for pets and possessions, as possible.

All services are focused on exiting people to permanent housing as rapidly as possible.

Shift the case management approach from:

“What can I do to help you?” to “How can I help you to obtain housing?”


Low Barrier Does Not Mean

No rules or expectations of shelter participants.

Allowing people to act in ways that are unsafe to themselves or others.

Letting anything happen or letting everyone in.


Safety Based Rules

Treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Use the shelter space in a respectful manner.

Be a good neighbor.

No weapons are allowed in the shelter.

Substance use is not allowed on the premises.


What We Have Learned About “Under the Bridge”

The fact that individuals do not access services, though the services are in close proximity, indicates a desire for help, not an indifference.  Most are “not sure where and how to ask for assistance,” as cited in the Knoxville-Knox County Homeless Coalition study. 


Individuals struggling with addiction disorders often cannot access services because of the prerequisites and/or requirements for those services in a traditional shelter. 


Individuals with mental health issues often avoid large crowds. 


Confronted with unsafe conditions, people often “pair-up” for safety reasons.  


What is Housing First?

Homelessness is a housing problem.

Everyone is ready for housing.

People should be returned to or stabilized in permanent housing as quickly as possible and connected to resources necessary to sustain housing.

Issues that contributed to a household’s homelessness can best be addressed:

At entry, start to focus on a “housing plan.”

Identify barriers to tenancy that will be worked through in the housing plan.

Connect to housing resources.

Focus every in-person meeting on a quick move to permanent housing.

Review and discuss the housing plan weekly at a minimum.

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