Make the community livable again. Those are words that probably do not often come to mind when people think and talk about Nashville, TN. Terms like IT City, Up and Coming, nightlife and music scene smother articles about our growing city. But there is an underground of Nashville.
Message from the Co-Founders
At “Harvesting Hope,” Open Table Nashville’s 7-year anniversary party and annual fundraiser, Ingrid McIntyre and Lindsey Krinks, who were two of the co-founders of Open Table Nashville, shared this message to a packed room of volunteers, supporters, and friends.
Lindsey: When Ingrid and I were thinking about what we wanted to say tonight and looking back at the last 7 years, a flood of memories came back from our early days. When we look at our team and community now, we see 12 staff members who are skilled leaders in their field; 6 interns, residents, and AmeriCorps members who are endlessly compassionate; all the incredible volunteers and supporters who have come alongside us; our partnership with a church where we are breaking ground on a micro home village, and other great projects in the wings. But all of this started small with just a handful of people. It started with a few of us saying “yes” – “Yes” to journeying alongside our friends at Tent City who had just been flooded out of the only homes they knew. It started with us saying “yes” to housing, “yes” to healing, and “yes” to hope.
Ingrid: Some of you have been with us since the beginning. Others of you have more recently come to the table. People who are newer to our community often ask us, “What does a typical day look like for you?” or “What does Open Table Nashville actually do? Or mean?” Open Table means there’s always room . . . for everyone. And while there is no “typical” day for us, Linds and I wanted to take you on a quick-ish stroll down memory lane that will hopefully help you understand who we are and better appreciate where we are today. Soooo . . .
Lindsey: Hey Ingrid, remember that time in 2010 when there was a flood and it completely changed our lives?
Ingrid: How could I forget?? Remember that time we unintentionally started OTN and my dining room was our office . . . and my house was our storage unit…. for like 4 years?
Lindsey: Remember how after the flood, we moved 15 Tent City residents into a church parsonage and we all took shifts sleeping on a terrible rickety cot in the middle of the living room for months and months?
Ingrid: Uh, yeah, I remember that… And when my dad used to call me and say, “Who exactly are you spending the night with??”
Lindsey: Remember when we ran multiple emergency winter shelters at whatever church opened their doors to us and “schelped” supplies all across town in our cars?
Ingrid: Oh, the “schelping!!” Remember all those times our cars were so full of shelter and outreach supplies that there was only a little bubble of open space for our heads? Yeah – “Rolling Donation Stations”
Lindsey: Remember all the new volunteers who showed up to do outreach with us and were like, “We’re going where?? Under those bridges?? In those woods??” Only to completely fall in love with our friends who lived there?
Ingrid: Remember how people we met on that very first day are in this room tonight? Like Pete who lived at Tent City, then moved to the parsonage, then was on our staff and even our board? He’s been in housing and volunteers with us to this day!
Lindsey: Remember that time we met Ken who was in a wheelchair and couldn’t walk and couldn’t talk because of a tumor, but he completely changed our lives? Remember how when he was placed on hospice care, we became his family and were with him until the end?
Ingrid: Remember how I’m usually kind of a grouch at Christmas, but that one time I got to be Santa Claus for people who hadn’t celebrated the holidays or received gifts since they were small children? Yeah – wow. That was really Christmas.
Lindsey: Remember that time some of our most consistent donors were inmates in prison who heard about us and wanted to “give back to the community” by supporting us? And they still give every month to their brothers and sisters on “the outside?”
Ingrid: Remember when we didn’t know how we were going to pay our bills and keep this thing going and then “manna” happened – a lot? An unexpected check in the mail… a bill paid by a friend?
Lindsey: Remember that time we were the intern site for the students who completely changed their career paths and are now overseeing their own outreach teams? (Sorry Med School!)
Ingrid: Remember the nights we froze our butts off sitting on the ice-cold pavement trying to convince people to come indoors when it was well below freezing?
Lindsey: And then remember all the times our cars smelled for weeks because we transported very sick people to the hospital who refused to ride in ambulances?
Ingrid: Remember that time our friends showed us grace because we make mistakes all the time and are crazy? “Blessed are the flexible…
Lindsey: …For they shall not be bent out of shape!” Remember all the times we’ve been amazed by the resilience, love, and humor from our friends? How we’ve seen them awaken to their own dignity and power and take back their lives?
Ingrid: Remember all the times we’ve gone to the hospital with our friends, unsure of the outcome… and the times when our friends have had to have their toes, feet, and legs amputated because of frostbite?
Lindsey: So so hard…. Remember all the times our eyes were puffy, red, and nearly swollen shut from crying when another friend died on the streets well before their time?
Ingrid: Remember all the haters who’ve said we’re nothing more than a “Social Justice Theater Troop…”
Lindsey: …And then remember that time Anderson Cooper interviewed you on 60 Minutes…
Ingrid: …And then all the haters came running back?! Remember all those congregations who stood with us through the hard times? (Sometimes love overrides liability insurance!)
Lindsey: Remember that time the Tent City documentary was bought by Oprah and then played on her network and then on Netflix to viewers across the world?
Ingrid: Remember that time Van Halen gave us $10,000? (Thanks Matt!)
Lindsey: Remember those times when we were the first people to hold a newborn baby? Or the last to hold someone’s hand before they passed?
Ingrid: Remember that time when we got milkshakes with a friend on the streets and how that made their entire month? A milkshake…
Lindsey: Remember all the times when our staff has taken care of one another and we’ve been each other’s lifelines?
Ingrid: Remember all the times we’ve spoken out with our voices shaking like a tree? And how it’s not that we’re brave, but being silent just isn’t an option anymore?
Lindsey: Remember all the times we slept outside, preparing ourselves to face arrest with our friends who were being evicted from their campsites?
Ingrid: Remember that time our friends who’ve moved into housing came back to cook dinners at our Resource Shelters, help us lead trainings, and volunteer with us?
Lindsey: Remember all the times when we’ve gotten to journey alongside our friends through some of the most difficult and important transitions in their lives? Marriages, funerals, surgeries, illnesses, new births?
Ingrid: Remember that time when someone convinced everyone they were having twins, but they weren’t even pregnant?
Lindsey: I do, and I think Lauren remembers that, too!! Remember how just last week in the span of a couple hours, our outreach workers Lauren and Samuel met an elderly man who was dying of colon cancer living on a cushion on the sidewalk, a man sleeping on some cardboard underneath bushes because he’s an immigrant and has no path to housing, and a veteran living on a bench without even a blanket… or a shirt?
Ingrid: Remember how meeting the basic needs of these friends should be our city’s priority but instead we are helping to fund new stadiums, pedestrian bridges, luxury condos and hotels, and new transit plans that will cause further gentrification? #HousingEndsHomelessness
Lindsey: Remember how we have to keep holding our city leaders and elected officials accountable so that we have equitable development as our city grows?
Ingrid: Remember that time when Pedro, who moved into housing 7 years ago, showed up at the groundbreaking last week and STILL had the same housing? Mind. Blown.
Lindsey: Yes, PEDRO… and if y’all knew Pedro, your minds would be blown, too! Remember all the times our volunteers have come to our rescue, collected enough donations to keep thousands of people safe and warm, and literally saved lives?
Ingrid: Remember how we’ve learned how to hustle to keep this work going?
Lindsey: Remember how we’ve housed 650 people in the last 7 years?
Ingrid: Remember that time we had a dream and finally broke ground on it? … Okay, we could go on forever, but we hope some of these very real memories have given you a better picture of who we are. Whew! 7 years. Only through grace, grit, our community and manna are we standing here with you tonight.
Lindsey: The truth is that we are living today in a very different city than when we started this work. Homelessness is increasing and Nashville is now one of the most income-segregated cities in the United States and one of the tightest housing markets in the country.
Ingrid: We know that in Nashville we’ve lost over 5,000 units of affordable housing in the past year and replaced it with 100, that because of that homelessness has increased by 10%, that all the people in Nashville experiencing homelessness – around 20,000 throughout the year – would completely pack out Bridgestone Arena and would include about 12,000 adults and 8,000 children. We know that a lack of resources for mental and physical health, substance use, and targeted criminalization are barriers to finding housing for some of our most vulnerable neighbors.
Lindsey: And it’s so important that you know that our goal for Open Table Nashville is not to build the biggest, shiniest, most “successful” nonprofit that we can. Our goal for Open Table Nashville is to end homelessness. It’s to create a culture of radical care in our community. It’s to eventually work ourselves out of a job. But there are forces at work in our city and nation that are bigger than us right now and in order to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice and compassion and equity, we need everyone in this room. We need you and all your friends and networks! Our work started with us saying “yes” to our friends on the streets. And we need you to say “yes” to journeying alongside us and our friends/ We need you to say “yes” to claiming a place at this table.
Ingrid: As we are often reminded, there are lots of people doing good in Nashville. There are folks feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering those without a roof. Our hope is that somehow – through the bedrock of relationships with our friends experiencing homelessness, with our volunteers, our supporters, our elected officials, our community – that we can not only provide food, clothing and shelter, but we can actually break cycles of poverty, stay woke to systemic oppression, educate ourselves and speak out against the deterioration of the RICHNESS in our community. We aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and we ask you to come alongside us on this crazy journey. We ask that you say YES to housing, YES to healing, YES to hope in a bold way. Whatever that looks like for you. Say YES to a seat at the table, because there is plenty of room, and it will take us all.