Special Reports

Bridge Ministry focuses on caring for Nashville's homeless

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) - Using a wooden cane to get around, James Thomas is glad to be on his feet after a long list of health problems throughout the years, ranging from two bulging disks to his hip being thrown out of place after a bicycle accident. 

"I also have arthritis in both knees, which doesn't help either," Thomas said. 

They’re medical conditions Thomas said he’s had a hard time getting help for. 

He has housing now but was homeless for six years. 

"Living with friends or living in a house and barely getting by," he recalled. 

He spent most of that time spent on the street and in homeless camps with no money or no car to get to the doctor. 

"Transportation is another issue the homeless have too, got to get around and buses aren't free," Thomas said. 

Sadly, his story is one Candy Christmas with The Bridge Ministry hears all the time. 

"Haven't seen a doctor or a dentist in maybe 10 to 15 years," said Christmas, founder and CEO of The Bridge Ministry. 

The non-profit feeds between 250 to 500 people every week under the Kelly Miller Smith Bridge formerly known as the Jefferson Street Bridge.

Lately, she said not having food isn't the only problem many of the city's homeless are facing. 

She said things like wounds and bug bites to more serious issues like diabetes and other medical conditions are going unchecked for years. 

"A homeless person in a camp that is bitten by a spider or an insect can become infected and never seek medical treatment,” Christmas said. “This can be very life-threatening and dangerous to a homeless person." 

By the end of the summer, the nonprofit will start a mobile clinic under the bridge, offering hearing tests, physical and dental exams, mental health evaluations, and flu shots. 

“Instead of taking them out of their environment that would be very intimidating and overwhelming, we can serve them right here where they are,” Christmas said. 

She said along with the health problems of many of the people they serve, their ages have also changed. 

Within the past 18 months, the nonprofit has been serving more children who are either homeless or just in need. 

"We serve families with small children as young as only a few weeks old," Christmas said. 

The CEO said about a quarter of the people they feed are kids, which is why last year they started roping off an area under the bridge specifically for children to play and eat. 

"When the economy took a downturn in 2008, we started to see the difference," Christmas said. 

Many of the kids don't live on the street, but in cars or hotels with their families. 

"It's very heartbreaking," Christmas said. 

It’s heartbreak they hope to heal one meal at a time. 

"It is our hope and our dream that we would break the cycle of homelessness that when these children grow up and have families and children of their own that we're not serving them under this bridge too," she said. 

Organizers with The Bridge Ministry hope to have the mobile clinic up and running by the end of the summer. 

Through other programs, the nonprofit also feeds about 2,300 school kids every week in Davidson County. 

Click here to read more stories from "Homeless in Music City."

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