New housing helping dozens go from ‘expecting to die on the streets’ to fresh start

Tenants were able to sign a lease for as long as they needed.
Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 11:24 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Volunteer Ministry Center officially welcomed its first neighbors into its long-awaited permanent housing development in early January.

Caswell Manor tenant James Olsen was on week two of living in his 600-square-foot, fully-furnished apartment.

“Rags to riches is the way to describe it,” Olsen said.

It has been the small things like his privacy, having his own dishes to wash and just silence that has made the biggest impact on his life.

“I just sat here in silence for like four days straight, because I haven’t heard it in a very long time,” Olsen said.

Olsen told WVLT News he tried to secure a place to call home for a very long time, but obstacles kept him defeated.

“When you’re homeless and you’re working to try to save up that money to get the down payment, and the amount of money that you’re supposed to have in a bank to prove that you have your next month, right? It just seems virtually impossible. It’s like climbing a mountain,” Olsen said.

CEO Bruce Spangler knows that struggle enough to make a difference for Olsen and 47 other people like him through donations and federal housing funding.

“Folks who would qualify for a Caswell Manor, or in other places like us in the town, are the folks who are most likely to die on the streets,” Spangler said. “So, they’re the most vulnerable citizens in our community. We have weekly community meetings to ascertain who needs permanent supportive housing.”

The group helped take people off the streets, sometimes give them a job, life saving resources and a safe place to enjoy life.

“Some of our housing case managers before folks come to places like this get creative with a neighbor,” said Spangler. “I’ve known of stories of someone case manager setting up a tent in an apartment because the person was so accustomed to sleeping under a tent and seeing the canvas just above their head. And that felt felt safe to them.”

The city contributed more than a million dollars to create the permanent housing development.

Tenants are able to sign a lease for as long as they needed.