Aug 15, 2023

TORCH lights the way toward housing homeless families in Anderson County

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29 Aug, 2023, 07:03 ET

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Oak Ridge, Tennessee homeless assistance group wants to share their model with other communities as a solution to the challenges housing advocates face

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 29, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- In an effort to quickly provide permanent housing to homeless families in Anderson County, the Tennessee Out-Reach Center for Homeless (TORCH) has developed a unique path using the Housing First concept to get families off the street by providing a more streamlined approach.

TORCH's model places an emphasis on families with children and secures non-congregate shelters by placing these families into single-family housing that the non-profit owns. The Oak Ridge Housing Authority (ORHA) manages these facilities on TORCH's behalf, which then allows TORCH case managers to devote more time to helping families find the assistance they need to secure permanent housing.

"Our motto is that 'no child sleeps outside.' It's been our vision that a child who is homeless may never even know they were homeless in the first place," said TORCH Executive Director Andy O'Quinn. "There are very few places for families with children to go to when they become homeless. We challenged our community in Anderson County to help us provide something for these families and they delivered."

Using a model based upon the Housing First concept, TORCH identifies those who need immediate help and provides them with temporary, non-congregate housing for a shorter time period than most traditional systems use.

TORCH owns two temporary housing units called Agape House and Bookhart Village where they can house up to nine families temporarily. ORHA oversees these properties by securing rental agreements, conducting monthly inspections and ensuring that the clients keep the units clean and in good shape for future residents.

In most systems, homeless families are placed in an emergency shelter where they live until temporary housing becomes available. Families then live in the temporary housing for up to two years before they move into a permanent residence of their own.

However, since there is no emergency shelter in Anderson County, homeless families had to go to a shelter in Knox County or be placed in another type of communal living facility. TORCH's new model bypasses the need for a congregate shelter, and most of TORCH's families stay in the non-congregate unit for about six months. TORCH uses the waiting list for public housing as their measure for how long a family can stay in one of their units.

ORHA Executive Director Maria Catron said this program is like nothing she has seen in her more than 20 years of working with housing authorities throughout the Southeast.

"We're able to work together to get families out of the elements and into a non-congregate home immediately," Catron said. "TORCH identifies these families and provides ongoing case management while we provide the property management services for their housing units. They are allowed to do what they do best, and we are able to do what we do best."

She said that since ORHA maintains the properties, their team develops a personal relationship with the resident families and that bond continues as the families move into long-term public housing. TORCH and ORHA work seamlessly to ensure families are identified, placed into the non-congregate housing units and that the units are properly maintained.

TORCH's work with the ORHA is so successful, they believe other communities could duplicate the concept to allow the homeless to "Shelter in a Future Home."

"It's our moral responsibility to take care of the homeless," said Sheila Michel, founder of TORCH. "Areas like Anderson County and other smaller communities find it difficult to provide emergency shelters for families who find themselves homeless. This program bypasses that need while still helping homeless families get off the streets. We have had such success with this model that we want to share it with other housing authorities and homeless advocacy groups across the nation."

For more information on TORCH, please visit

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Tennessee Out-Reach Center for Homeless (TORCH) opened its doors in January 2013 as the only comprehensive homeless service in Anderson County, Tennessee. Because there is no shelter in the county, TORCH operates the Housing First model. Efforts are made to find affordable, sustainable housing as quickly as possible and can help provide additional financial assistance if a client is qualified. TORCH partners with other agencies in Anderson County to work together to assist their clients in the most efficient, productive manner. TORCH is Lighting a Path to a Brighter Tomorrow. For more information, please visit

MEDIA CONTACT:Heather RipleyRipley PR865-977-1973[email protected]

SOURCE Tennessee Out-Reach Center for Homeless

Tennessee Out-Reach Center for Homeless