Hospitality Hub continues efforts to help the homeless in Memphis

By Updated: May 06, 2019 5:38 PM CT | Published: May 05, 2019 2:27 PM CT

When Kelcey Johnson became Hospitality Hub executive director in 2011, he thought the organization focused too much on hospitality and not enough on its main mission “to help people exit out of homelessness.”

“I saw we had the ability to do that work, and we started working toward (those) goals,” Johnson said.

The job may get easier with added resources proposed by city and county governments in an effort to largely end street-level homelessness in the city. 

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The Hub, founded in 2007 as a centralized resource to help the local homeless population, offers more than 20 services including comprehensive case management assistance, the Work Local program, Memphis Area Transit Authority bus passes and access to temporary shelter vouchers.

Darrius “Mak” Clayton, the Hub outreach director, said the homeless often feel “they’re overlooked, no respect is given to them.” Part of the mission is to give back some dignity and respect, he said.

The Hub also works to secure state IDs or birth certificates for the homeless population.  

Johnson said not having a state ID is a big obstacle for the homeless population to many services, including government benefits, affordable housing, health care, jobs and citizenship status.

In 2018, Hub data shows it helped 546 men and women find their birth certificates, and 417 people acquired a state ID.

The Hub is waiting to see if it receives about $8 million from a private-public partnership to relocate and expand its service at 501 Washington St., the former Memphis Inspection Station. The Hub is at 82 N. Second St.

A new 32-bed women’s emergency homeless shelter and a 10,000-square-foot outdoor plaza space that includes a community table, food truck space and community garden are some of the highlights of the potential expansion.

City, county consider potential investment

What makes the Hub’s proposed expansion different from others is the potential record investment from Memphis and Shelby County to homeless services pending approval from legislative bodies.  

Hub officials said they have raised $5.5 million in private capital as part of the private-public partnership for its relocation and expansion. The capital is contingent on the city and county approving funding.

The city, which provides $375,000 in grants to the Hub, is proposing to add $1.1 million over the next three fiscal years. The county is considering contributing $1.275 million the next three fiscal years and both governments are pledging $1.2 million after fiscal 2021. 

The city and county funding could go toward both supporting operational services and construction of the new Hub facility, according to County Commission Chairman Van Turner. 

Johnson said the Hub has spent at least 2½ years raising private funding for the expansion, and the city’s current partnership helped bring the proposal forward.

Turner said the Hub services made it attractive for Shelby County to consider investing significant funds in the program.

“It’s one of the things which separates what they’re doing as opposed to what some of the other agencies have done in the past,” Turner said.

The proposal has the support of both Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. The City Council is expected to vote on the proposal May 7, and the County Commission likely will vote on it in late June, according to Turner.

How the Hub plans to measure progress

City Council chairman Kemp Conrad said the plan could potentially end street-level homelessness in the city in the 2½ years.

<strong>Kemp Conrad</strong>

Kemp Conrad

Conrad elaborated on his comments, saying while there will always be homelessness on a small level, he believes the Hub and its partners can significantly decrease the homelessness population in the city.

“I think it’s a great project,” Conrad said. “This was a need that we saw needed to be expanded as soon as possible.”

Last year, the Hub had nearly 1,600 clients. Tracking the ultimate success rate of those clients once they leave the Hub is challenging, Johnson said.

Once a client leaves, Johnson said they often do see a need to stay in contact. At the same time, he said he has heard plenty of “success” stories following one’s time at The Hub.

“Did you get your kids back?” Johnson said. “That’s a success. Family accepted you back into the fold. That’s a success. Those are successes.”

Clayton, whose family moved around due to homelessness when he was younger, said helping anyone “get off the street” makes the job worthwhile for him.

“The biggest reward of me working here is when somebody comes up to me and says 'I got my ID, bro. I’m gonna get a job today.'” 


Hospitality Hub Homeless Services Kelcey Johnson Shelby County Memphis City Council
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf is the county government reporter for The Daily Memphian. Omer was previously a reporter at The Jackson Sun and is a University of Memphis graduate.

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