ETSU's Downtown Day Center Celebrates Completion
Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Section: People & Places in the News, May 2018

(from the Johnson City Press)

In one of of the coldest weeks of January and only days after passing its final inspection, the new $1 million Johnson City Downtown Day Center quietly opened its doors to continue expanding on the services it has provided to the community’s homeless population from more humble facilities for more than a decade.

Now fully furnished and complete with a brand new community health care clinic, the center invited its supporters, staff, volunteers, and clients in last month for a celebration fitting the significant milestone it has passed.

Honored guests there to help cut the ribbon included East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland, Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine, Johnson City Mayor David Tomita, and Wendy Nehring, dean of the ETSU College of Nursing that continues to operate the center it founded those many years ago.

Staff members stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the center’s spacious new reception office, and board members and clients filled every seat in the large, sunny day room as the dignitaries took turns speaking about the vital service the facility provides, not only for local homeless population, but for the entire community.

Tomita said he has long recognized “we are all just a banana peel away” from needing the day center’s services.

Center Director Jennifer Whitehead emphasized the new health clinic, like the original Downtown Clinic from which it sprang, is open to everyone in need of primary health care, “homeless or not homeless, insured or not insured.”

Since its January opening, Whitehead said the new facility has allowed the day center to triple the shower and laundry services it provides, up to 375 showers in February compared to an average of 100 showers per month in its old building.

When all was said, there were guided tours to show everyone the new amenities, festive plates of finger food to add to the celebration, and many small blessings to smile about: new men’s and women’s showers, five sets of washers and dryers in the laundry room, spacious men’s and women’s clothes closets, a nice full kitchen, and a health care clinic with three exam rooms, a mental health counseling room, a group therapy room, and a blood work lab that Whitehead said in itself has improved the quality of health care the homeless client’s receive.

“Before we had a lab we had to send them over to the Johnson City Community Health Center for blood work and many of them just did not go,” she said.

“I think it’s great,” said Lenar Gipson, a homeless client who was thoroughly enjoying the celebration and the reception. Gipson, who is going through his second bout of homelessness since coming to Johnson City more than a year ago, only recently returned to the day center after several months of living in a tent. He has lost the apartment the day center helped him get into months ago, but is working again with a case manager to restart the Social Security disability income awarded to him. When his income is restarted and he’s back under a roof again, Gipson said there are several health issues for which he will visit the new health care clinic.

While the day center is still working to publicize the new health clinic’s availability to the general public, Whitehead said the center’s homeless clients will be given priority and will be seen the same day they come in for treatment regardless of how busy the clinic becomes.

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