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2014 Highlights

In case you’ve ever wondered what it is that we actually do at Open Table Nashville, here is a numerical overview of some major victories in 2014:

Outreach calls responded to: 4,357
“Home” & hospital visits: 428
Bus passes: 1,761
People receiving first aid care: 189
Birth certificates ordered: 86
New state IDs: 59
Transport to and advocacy at appointments: 349
Housing/resource meetings with friends: 593
Donated furniture pick-ups: 135
New households receiving furniture: 198
Overnight shelters: 156
People who attended OTN trainings or educational sessions: 1,720
Beds filled through shelters: 4,180
Made possible by 13,115 volunteer hours

And finally –– 91 PEOPLE moved into permanent housing in 2014! (That’s a whopping 47% increase from 2013). There is still so much more to be done, but we rejoice in the community partnerships, support from volunteers and donors, and hard work done by these individuals themselves to make these life changes possible. We are so thankful for YOU, and thankful to be on this journey together.IMG_1220

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Homeless Memorial Reflection 2014

We come together today with weary hearts. We have lost so many friends this year, so many loved ones. Today, death hangs heavy in the cold air… death and injustice. They hang like strange fruit from the trees. We carry in our bones the grief, the loss, the memories. We carry in our bodies, our lives, the ways we were changed by the people on this list. They taught us how to love, how to laugh, how to struggle, how to weep.

Poet Adrienne Rich writes, “My heart is moved by all I cannot save. So much has been destroyed.” And today, our hearts are moved. Many of the people on this list died before their time. Some were found in campsites, others on park benches. Some were surrounded by friends when they passed, others died alone. And while their names are on our lips, we look around our city here in the heart of downtown.

We look around and find that we’re surrounded by new development, we’re surrounded by public money pouring into new high-end condos and centers for entertainment while our friends die without homes. We’re surrounded by the sound of bulldozers leveling small homes to build larger, more expensive ones in their stead. We’re surrounded by a society that is defunding housing, mental health care, substance abuse programs, and food assistance and increasing funds to jails and prisons. And we watch as the body count rises. Yes, so much has been destroyed.

So we stand here in this cold and ask why. We stand here and wonder where is hope? We wait with open eyes looking for a sign, looking for something, someone, to break into all this suffering and violence and bring good news.

And as we wait, our mind fills with the memories, the stories, the lessons learned from our friends who have passed. What did Delores teach me? To love. What did Jamie teach me? To laugh. What did Diane teach me? To struggle. What did Robert teach me? To weep.

So we stand here in the shadow of coffins, in the shadow of progress and development, and realize something else. In our grief, we are not alone. In our anger, we are not alone. Look around at your brothers and sisters gathered here today. Some of us are friends, some of us are strangers, but we’re united in our love for the people we came to remember. We’re united by our hunger for justice, our hunger to create a better world where people aren’t found on benches and in campsites, alone.

So in this season of winter, Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, where we await good news and liberation and warmth, let us rekindle the memories of those who have passed and let us rekindle the spark of hope in our own hearts. We are not alone.

Together, let us bear witness to the reality of the streets in a city that does so much to push it out of sight, out of mind. Let us wade through injustice and grief, through violence and death, and let our feet pound the pavement in protest, in prayer. Let us feel our collective lament, our collective love, and our collective power and wield it to bend handcuffs into house keys. And then together, with God’s grace, let our very breath, our very marrow, our very being, be the in-breaking of hope, equality, and justice in this world.

As we read the names of all the departed, let us recognize that they are, in many ways, present with us today, that their stories of struggle and loss and hope will continue on with us, and that our memories of them will fuel our work to create a better world.

Written by Rev. Lindsey Krinks

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Messy Joy

I’ve always heard people say that it feels good to serve, and I agree with them. I think our souls have a hunger that is only satisfied by feeding others. It’s also easy and clean to keep yourself at arm’s distance, reaping joy from the triumphs while avoiding the messy realities of hardship. But if you don’t know someone’s struggle, do you really know them? Can we truly stand in celebration with someone if we aren’t willing to also sit in mourning with them? What isn’t as popular to talk about is how building relationships with the people we serve makes things more complicated. Real relationships mean sticking around for the ups and the downs. The destination is still joy and wholeness, but the road there is messy and cannot be survived without the very support that those and other relationships provide.

I built a friendship this summer with a married couple. As we worked on their housing paperwork and documents together, we also gained each other’s trust and support. They gave me encouragement while I attempted to do the same for them. They were hilarious and usually cheerful and always made me think, “I love my job.” The day I turned in all of their housing paperwork and connected them with temporary housing was one of my favorite days of the summer. Five days later, the husband was admitted to St. Thomas hospital. His liver had gotten worse, and after being discharged, he would begin receiving hospice care at home (thank God for temporary housing). I had already felt exhausted when the wife called me that morning with their medical news. I told her I would come by the next day and asked her what she needed. She said she just needed a familiar face with ears to listen, and I replied that I would be on my way soon. As I sat in my car in the parking garage, preparing to visit this couple whom I loved, I reminded myself that they called me because I was a friend on their good days –– now they needed a friend on their bad day. My job wasn’t to eliminate bad days, it was to be present during them. To share burdens. To sit and to listen. After he was discharged and began receiving proper services in their own apartment, life returned to its routine. They went to the store, went to church, took naps, and always called me to make sure I was doing well that day.

We have become friends- through the triumphs, the trials, and the mundane. When I check on them, they check on me. I brought them food in the hospital, and they took me to lunch after getting their check. There is no housed and unhoused, rich and poor, educated and uneducated; there is only community. P.S. I am so fortunate to have learned these lessons and lived these truths with incredible friends these past two summers. I owe much gratitude, and probably a few meals, to Ingrid, Lauren, Lindsey, Anne, Samuel, Pete, Sarah, Kelly, Matthew, and Taylor.

For all of the things, I thank my OTN family.

Natalie Pickett

Summer Staff

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The Revolving Door of Criminalization

The other night, my friend, Jill (not her real name), one of the most vulnerable people I know on the street, called me for a ride from Antioch Pike and Harding. She’s past 50, and she has been suffering PTSD from an terrible incident from this past spring. And why is she calling me at 8:30pm, other than that I have been working to help her get housing and care? Because on this stormy night, she has no one else to call, and the police have just let her out of jail far from anywhere (as they typically do people released from jail), when buses don’t run reliably to the part of town she is staying in. And why was she in jail? Because she was at Room in the Inn and a guy stole some $20 from her, and she called the police, only instead of arresting him, they discovered she had a warrant out for her arrest and so arrested her instead. And why did she have a warrant out for her arrest? Because a couple of months ago she was walking back from Room in the Inn the couple of miles to where she stays when it started raining, so she ducked under the awning of a downtown church to wait out the thunderstorm, and a Metro cop saw her and graciously gave her–she has no money–a citation that she can’t pay instead of hauling her into jail that very night. And on what grounds did she get a citation? Because sometimes the church understands it to be a Christian duty to have anyone seeking shelter on their property arrested automatically for trespassing (a so-called “trespass waiver”). And why did she not pay the fine? Besides the fact that she has no money to pay fines and court costs, like most of the homeless in Nashville? Because at the time of the court date, she was hospitalized for the severe PTSD and so had been unavailable to attend to pay the court costs and fines she could not afford and did not deserve.donotpassgo

This scenario of petty criminalization repeats itself dozens of times per week in Nashville, pushing people further and further into desperation and homelessness. Not everyone on the street, of course, suffers from PTSD from a terrible incident as an adult. Some were abused as children. Others neglected, or bullied, or raped. Some are depressed and anxious because of losing a job and difficulty in supporting a family. Or suffered PTSD while fighting for our country. Or any of those thousand little ways our lives have of falling apart. Most often they lack support circles. And our best answer to their problems is to fine or arrest them at every turn, lock them up for non-payment of court costs and fines, then arrest them again a while later, starting the whole cycle over again. Criminalizing people experiencing homelessness costs us–Nashville alone– millions in court costs and futile policing, and it costs people who are already suffering their dignity, their recovery, and sometimes their lives. It also costs us our humanity.

Samuel Lester

OTN Outreach

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With Liberty and Justice for Some

As I sat on a grassy hill overlooking the Cumberland River, observing the annual Independence Day fireworks and their reflection on the still water, I thought about what we as Americans celebrate on this day. What do the fireworks and the festive parties and parades mean? I thought about asking a few of the many people sitting next to me on this hill, each one decked out in stars and stripes, “What does this day represent for you?” Some might mention our First Amendment rights, freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition, all of which are valuable. But what other freedoms do we have? What about the freedom to work and earn money to use to feed and shelter our loved ones and ourselves? Or the freedom to walk the streets without the fear of being unjustly harassed or arrested because we do or do not look a certain way? Although the seizure of these rights is thought of as something foreign and unthinkable, thousands of individuals in the United States experience the injustice of having their basic human rights disregarded because of their social-economis status as poor or homeless.

After the fireworks show is over, most of us drove to our homes and snoozed in our comfortable beds. But for some, there is no permanent home to return to, maybe not even a friendly couch to relieve tired, blistering feet. The homes of our friends on the streets look different. They may be more temporary or less sustainable. They may not provide necessary protection from the elements. They might not even be there when they return. The only solace available might look like a bench in a public park, which provides little security and a large risk of arrest. There may be no kitchen with a pantry of food to return to when hunger strikes. Each meal is a question mark; each day is uncertain. So, rather than perpetuate this exclusive freedom and only honor the rights of those who are labeled as worthy, let us as a community accompany one another with support and grace as we redefine what it really means to be American. If we call this the land of the free and the home of the brave, let us be brave enough to fight for the freedom and equality of all people. Join Open Table Nashville in making this happen here in this city we all share (volunteer@opentablenashville.org).

Peace,

Taylor

OTN Summer Intern

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Help Stand in the Gap

“To tolerate injustice and descend into apathy is to dissolve the bonds that are the formation of our community.” I read this quote from students at the University of Virginia in a news article recently, and it really struck a chord with me. Students used this quote to entice people to take action to form a more inclusive and prosperous community within their university, and Open Table Nashville is doing the same thing, right here in our community.

OTN can always use more volunteers, so I’m here to encourage you to recruit your friends and neighbors to become more involved with Open Table. There are an estimated 6,000 homeless people in Nashville., including 2,800 children. That’s 6,000 people who, without relationships with Open Table Nashville and a handful of other outreach service providers, have nowhere to go. NOwhere to go.

Can you imagine yourself in that situation?

Additionally, through partnership with How’s Nashville and with other resource providers, Open Table has contributed to getting 550 people into affordable housing since June 4, 2013. The Open Table team is effectively working towards their mission to end chronic homelessness in Nashville, and, let’s face it-who doesn’t want to be a part of a winning team? We all  have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters to ensure that all have a place to call home. Personally, I believe that, as a society, we have a duty to leave the world a better place than we found it. Open Table works hard to see that people in need of assistance get the help they need and deserve.

The other day, Natalie, Ingrid, and I went to hang out with our friends Smurf, Angel, and Cowboy. Before he sang us a song, Cowboy prayed a prayer with an ending that really moved me. Cowboy asked God that he and his friends be able to “help others while we try to help ourselves.” People experiencing homelessness are often dismissed as lazy or freeloaders looking for a handout, but these friends are truly loving, holy people who want to help stand in the gap with people because they have been helped in times of need, too. Will you lend a hand? I hope you will consider becoming involved with Open Table Nashville’s work in our community and to share your passion for helping our brothers and sisters who need it the most. (volunteer@opentablenashville.org) Thank you to so many who have already reached out to serve –– we couldn’t do it without you!

Peace,

Matthew

OTN Summer Intern