Housing authority director Robert Lipscomb estimates there are 160,000 Shelby County residents living in poverty.
But while it would be impossible to help all of them, the city of Memphis and the county are aggressively trying to provide assistance to those believed to be most vulnerable - the hundreds who call the streets, alleys and abandon buildings their homes.
You may have seen their faces, but not stopped long enough to hear their stories of life on the streets in Memphis. But, now thanks to the efforts of dedicated volunteers from the Alliance for the Homeless, some of those untold stories may have the chance to possibly be altered toward happier endings.
"We're grateful for the homeless people that agreed to let us share their names and stories," said Katie Kitchin, Alliance for the Homeless director. "Not all of them did. But, they understand you do get 'numb' from looking at just data all the time and everybody has a story."
It was fact-based numbers, names and stories, culled from surveys conducted by Alliance volunteers during the first week of October, which is providing a clearer picture and a concrete approach to dealing with the plight of the homeless in the Bluff City.
First jointly announced nearly two years ago by city and Shelby County mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell, with the financial backing of both governments, Memphis has taken an active role in the nationwide 1000,000 homes campaign, seeking to identify the most vulnerable among the homeless and provide them with priority housing.
But, that's just the start in trying to combat years of lives that have spiraled downward.
"With the house comes wrap-around services, comes case management, comes identifying what the critical needs are," said Shelby County Mayor Luttrell. "Because it is not so much not having a residence, it is such things as mental illness, drug and alcohol dependence."
In the Alliance survey, conducted with 259 homeless opting to answer questions, 130 had serious medical conditions, 197 admitted to substance abuse problems, and 140 said they were victims of mental health disorders. The average length of time living on the street was nine years and 102 responders said they'd been violently attacked.
Subsequently, the group admitted their conditions had led them to a collective total of 442 visits to hospital E. R. rooms in the last 90 days. In one year alone the projected unpaid costs amounted to $6.5 million.
Yet, progress is being made. The Alliance is well on its way to raising donations of $100,000 to put 100 current homeless into furnished apartments. The city made a challenge donation of $25,000 at a news conference on Monday.
"If we have the resolve to make a dent in this problem and make a dent somewhere else, there is no limit to what we can do in Memphis, Tenn.," Lipscomb said. "If we put our minds to it and our hearts and heads."
"Their heartbeat is just like ours," Mayor Wharton said. "Their fears, their hopes and aspirations are just
like ours. Real people that we're talking about."
Besides the city's $25,000 contribution five companies pledged to pitch in $1,000 each to the Alliance for the homeless.