Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries celebrates second year
As Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries (SMARM) celebrates their second year of operation next month, SMARM board member Judge Dwight Stokes says that his heart is touched by the number of families coming to request shelter last year.
Stokes, who often takes a group of young people from his church (First Baptist in Sevierville) to visit the Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) to work in the kitchen, says community support in Sevier County is needed to continue providing recovery services to the poor and homeless here.
With the Knox Area Rescue Ministries to provide direction and guidance, church and community support, and a wealth of advisors serving on the board of directors, the local ministry has been able to establish an office in Sevierville serving families needing emergency shelter and other forms of assistance.
According to SMARM board chairman Greg Johnson, SMARM served 886 people from July 2002 until June 2003, with approximately 50 percent of the contacts requesting shelter and nearly 80 percent of those requesting shelter being families.
“During the same time period, SMARM received 63 requests for help paying rent; 43 requests for help with utilities, and counseled 20 individuals with alcohol and/or drug issues,” Johnson said.
Since Sevier County has no alcohol and drug treatment program, persons needing help in this area are referred to KARM, which offers an extensive program that includes food, shelter, treatment program classes, and career counseling.
Judge Stokes said that he thought the treatment program was a good one and had recommended it in court for persons he thought would benefit. He also said that alcohol and drug issues were sometimes just part of a bigger picture of persons seeking emergency shelter.
“Cutbacks in government programs such as TennCare and mental health programs, as well as increased unemployment in some places (in Tennessee), can be catastrophic for people,” Stokes said. “These things are going to have an impact on communities, and we need to be prepared to address those needs.”
Although several SMARM board members believe emergency shelter services often
help people avoid incarceration (which is costly to taxpayers), the main reason they serve is to show compassion on the poor and homeless.
“We have made a good start, but there’s certainly more work to be done,” Wellons said.
The local ministry’s board of directors now includes other familiar names to Sevier County residents: County Commissioner Bill Oakes, Wendy Pomeroy from the Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic, Steve Streibig from Sevier County Food Ministries (SCFM), as well as several pastors of local churches and concerned business leaders and individuals.
“There are many families in our community who work hard but live from paycheck to paycheck, and a crisis such as extended illness or major car repairs puts them in a desperate situation,” said Streibig, who serves as executive director for SCFM. “At SCFM we see a lot of these families, and we can offer food and clothing but not shelter. We see the SMARM as being an important part of the network of ministry services offered to our neighbors here in Sevier County.”
Wellons says that when newcomers to the area visit SMARM and ask for help, the story typically involves a family who had high hopes for finding work and affordable housing quickly. “We have plentiful jobs here, but they don’t always pay the kind of income a family would need to establish a household on short notice,” Wellons said.
“Many places require first and last month’s rent and deposits for utilities are always required. Even families who have planned for such expenses sometimes face unexpected circumstances and don’t always have someone they can call for help. That’s why we are here.”
Wellons said that his organization is first of all a ministry of compassion.
“A community that is without compassion is not one worth living in,” Wellons said.