Ensure transportation justice for people on the streets this…

Each year, Metro works with community partners to release the Cold Weather Community Response Plan that includes a Metro-run overflow shelter. This year, the overflow shelter will be located at the Fairgrounds and will open when the temperature is projected to drop below 28 degrees. 

While Metro and WeGo generously provide some bus passes to outreach workers to distribute, we anticipate a greater transportation need than ever this year due to the raging pandemic, the economic downturn, the strain on existing shelters, and the more limited transportation capacity of outreach groups.

In order to ensure that everyone can make it out of the cold this year, we are asking WeGo to make their rides free to people who are experiencing homelessness and/or need to get out of the cold when the temperatures are projected to drop below freezing. While the bus passes they have given to the community are a great start in moving toward transportation justice, we must do more during these unprecedented times. 

Please join us in emailing Metro Council Members and WeGo CEO Steve Bland to ask them to provide FREE transportation to those who need it when the temperature drops below freezing this year! (And please share this call to action!)


SAMPLE EMAIL:

SUBJECT: Ensure transportation justice for people on the streets this winter
TO: councilmembers@nashville.govsteve.bland@nashville.gov

Dear Council Members and Steve Bland,

We greatly appreciate the steps that Metro Nashville and WeGo have taken to support people experiencing homelessness during winter months, but more needs to be done to ensure that everyone can safely get out of the cold this winter. 

While Metro and WeGo generously provide some bus passes to outreach workers to distribute, we anticipate a greater transportation need than ever this year due to the raging pandemic, the economic downturn, the strain on existing shelters, and the more limited transportation capacity of outreach groups.

We’re asking that WeGo make their rides free to people who are experiencing homelessness and/or need to get out of the cold when the temperatures are projected to drop below freezing. While the free bus passes are a great start in moving toward transportation justice, we must do more during these unprecedented times. No one deserves to die on our streets this winter for lack of transportation. 

Sincerely,
(Your name)
(Your address)

Tenants’ Rights & Evictions in Nashville: Updates & Resources

Special thanks to Kerry Dietz and Zac Oswald with Legal Aid Society of Middle TN & the Cumberlands for the information and resources in this post. They can be reached at kdietz@las.org and zoswald@las.org

As of June 1st, General Sessions courts across TN have re-started eviction proceedings. There are some exceptions under the CARES Act (see below). While the procedures vary from county to county, Davidson County is only seeing a limited number of defendants per day. Cases are being scheduled, and if defendants don’t show up for their court date, judges will likely grant default judgements. If the defendants do show up and the case is contested, they will likely have their cases set for a hearing later this summer, likely in late July or August.

There is currently a backlog of eviction filings that the Sheriff’s Office has refused to serve. Anything filed before the CARES Act (March 27th) is not subject to the moratorium for the properties covered by the CARES Act (see below).

The TN Supreme Court is requiring all landlords to certify that their properties are not covered by the CARES Act at least 10 days before a court hearing. If the landlord doesn’t fill out the certification, the case must be reset until after the certification is filed (plus 10 days).


What Does the CARES Act Say About Evictions?

In short, the CARES Act says that certain landlords cannot start the eviction process for nonpayment of rent cases until after July 25th. Even then, the landlord must give the tenant 30 days’ notice before filing a detainer warrant. Which properties are covered by the CARES Act?

  • Public housing
  • Project-based Section 8 housing 
  • Low Income Housing Tax Credit housing 
  • Rural Development housing 
  • Properties subject to the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA)
  • Landlords with a federally backed mortgage loan

Tenants and agencies can track if their properties are covered by the CARES Act by visiting here. (The database cannot currently track properties with fewer than 5 units. That means tenants with single family home owners may not find their property on this list. The list is non-exclusive. If a property is on the list, there’s a HIGH probability it’s covered by the CARES Act. If a property is not on the list, there’s still a possibility that the property is covered by the CARES Act. If the property is covered by the CARES Act, then tenants have extra protections against nonpayment of rent evictions. The landlord must wait until after July 25th to give the tenant a Notice to Vacate. Notice must be 30 days. Landlord cannot file court eviction papers (detainer warrant) until after the 30 days’ notice have expired.


What about Hotels?

Once someone has lived in a hotel or motel for more than 30 consecutive days, Legal Aid Society argues that they become a tenant, thanks to the Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. That means the eviction process would have to go through the proper legal channels, including a notice being issued. The problem is that most hotel and motel tenants, owners, and staff don’t understand this.


How to Find Legal Information on Tenants’ Rights:

Legal Aid Society of Middle TN & the Cumberlands has created a library of community ed materials related to COVID-19. They’re available at www.las.org. Here are the rental housing specific brochures:


How to Contact Legal Aid Society (LAS) and What Cases To Send:

  • Legal Aid Society can be reached by calling 1-800-238-1443 or 615-244-6610. Their address is 1321 Murfreesboro Pk., Suite 400 Nashville, TN, 37217.
  • Housing Cases Evictions, illegal lockouts, utility shutoffs, etc. Remember, all landlords must go through the court process to forcefully evict their tenants. No exceptions. LAS is seeing an increase in the number of landlords just changing the locks on tenants or throwing their stuff out.
  • Foreclosure Issues Servicing errors, FHA mortgages not following CARES Act rules, threats of foreclosure, foreclosure sales scheduled, and evictions after foreclosure sales.
  • Extended Stay Motel/Hotels – LAS is seeing an uptick in immediate evictions for extended stay residents. It is the position of LAS that the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act applies when a resident at a hotel/motel has stayed at the property for more than 30 consecutive days.
  • Unemployment Compensation Issues – Legal Aid has attorneys working on issues related to unemployment compensation cases right now.
  • Stimulus Check Issues – These are taking every shape and size right now. Just send them.
  • Domestic Violence Issues – Lethality factors have increased dramatically with DV victims in closer/longer proximity to their abuser. If you can get the victim to a place where they can safely contact LAS, please do.
  • Issues with Food Stamps, TANF, WIC, Social Security, Medicare, Tenncare, etc.

What about Utilities?

  • NES is suspending all power disconnections for non-payment until June 30. NES will absorb late fees and credit card fees on behalf of our customers until June 30. Customers in need of an extended payment arrangement are asked to contact Customer Relations by calling (615) 736-6900.
  • Metro Water Services will not assess late fees or disconnect water services to any of our customers through the end of June.
  • Piedmont Natural Gas has significantly decreased natural gas rates for all customers in its Tennessee service territory. The decrease is effective immediately and will be reflected in customers’ March 2020 bills. All disconnections will be suspended until further notice.
  • More information and updates: https://www.asafenashville.org/status-of-nashville-services/

How to Find Help with Rent & Utilities:

Rental, utility, and other assistance is available. See this comprehensive list from United Way that is updated daily: https://www.nashvilleresponsefund.com/individuals (For rental assistance, click “Financial Assistance.”)


A Reminder on the Proper Legal Eviction Process:

  1. Landlord gives notice to tenants that they will be evicted and why. This is usually a letter. PLEASE NOTE: Tenants in most housing in the Nashville area can waive their right to this notice. That means a landlord can jump straight to Step 2.
  2. Landlord files a “detainer warrant.” This paper gets served on the tenant. Service can be in person by handing the detainer warrant paper to the tenant. A detainer warrant can also be served by posting the paper on the tenant’s door and mailing the tenant a copy.
  3. The detainer warrant should give the tenant a court date. During COVID-19, the detainer warrant may not give the tenant a court date.
  4. If a tenant’s detainer warrant does not have a court date, the landlord should send the tenant notice (a letter) when the court date is scheduled.
  5. We don’t know that all landlords will tell tenants about their court dates. Tenants should be vigilant about calling the court clerks on a regular basis after June 1 to ask when their court date is scheduled.
  6. The case is heard in court.
  7. Tenants can ask to have their case continued/reset. This can give tenants extra time to call a lawyer or to raise money/seek other shelter.
  8. Once the case is heard, the judge will decide if the tenant wins/loses. Unless the law changes, COVID-19 alone is not a defense to a nonpayment of rent eviction.
  9. Tenants who lose in court have 10 days to move before their case becomes “final.” (E.g., If the judge says you lose on May 7th, you must move out by no later than May 17th.)
  10. Tenants can appeal their cases within the 10 days. However, if a tenant appeals for nonpayment of rent, they must move out or pay one year’s worth of rent to stay in the property while the appeal is pending. This won’t be feasible for most of the people contacting us.
  11. If the tenants are not out by the end of the 10 days, the landlord can file a “writ” to have the Sheriff come help to force the tenants out. (E.g., on May 18th, the landlord can file to have the Sheriff help move the tenant out.)

For more on Tenants’ Rights, see the resources and booklets available from LAS here: https://las.org/find-help/self-help-resource-center/legal-help-booklets/renters-home-owners/

COVID-19 Call to Action

Ask Mayor Cooper and the Metro Council to do more to protect Nashville’s homeless from COVID-19

Over the weekend, 119 positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at Nashville’s homeless shelters: 19 at the Fairgrounds and 100 at the Nashville Rescue Mission. Additional tests were described as “pending” and “indeterminate.” It’s crucial that we continue to put pressure on Metro to act NOW to ensure the safety of our friends on the streets and the broader Nashville community. 

ACTION: Email Mayor Cooper (mayor@nashville.gov) and Senior Advisor Mary Falls (mary.falls@nashville.gov) and click here to find your Council Member and add them to the email. 

Sample Email:

SUBJECT:  Metro MUST do more to protect homeless Nashvillians

Dear Mayor Cooper, Senior Advisor Mary Falls, and [Your Metro Council Member],

While Metro has taken some important actions to support and protect people experiencing homelessness in Nashville during this devastating pandemic, Metro can and must do more.

Specifically, Metro Nashville should:

1) Use a significant portion of the federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds to provide hotel/motel vouchers to people experiencing homelessness and to ensure the safety of Nashville’s most vulnerable residents including communities of color and people who are homeless, elderly, disabled, and living with chronic health conditions.

2) Follow FEMA guidelines for non-communal sheltering for individuals who are symptomatic, awaiting testing, and COVID-19 positive, as well as for high-risk homeless individuals (e.g. hotels, vacant dorms, nursing homes, etc.). Despite claims that the Fairgrounds provide “non-congregate” shelters, some guests continue to share areas like bathrooms, dining areas, and other communal areas. By definition, the Fairgrounds therefore is a “congregate shelter.” Providing non-communal sheltering would allow for Metro to receive FEMA funding for these services. Our sister cities like Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga have already taken this approach, as have countless cities across the nation.

3) Commit to frequently re-testing shelter guests and staff at the Fairgrounds and the Mission to account for new cases and false negatives. Provide mobile rapid testing for those living in homeless encampments.

Thanks for everything you are already doing to support our fellow Nashvillians who are particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of this pandemic, but we can and must do more. 

Sincerely,
[your name][your address or council district]

________________________

1. Email Mayor Cooper and other city leaders today! A sample email is below:

TO: mayor@nashville.gov, mary.falls@nashville.gov, jim.shulman@nashville.gov, jay.servais@nashville.gov, michael.caldwell@nashville.gov
SUBJECT: ACT NOW! Homelessness and COVID-19

Dear Mayor Cooper, Vice Mayor Shulman, Mary Falls, Dr. Michael Caldwell, and Chief Servais,

We are facing a dire public health crisis and must act now to ensure the safety of all Nashvillians, including people who are experiencing homelessness. Our neighbors without housing are often forced to congregate in groups to receive basic services like food and shelter. Many also have substantial health problems that cause them to be immunocompromised which creates a higher likelihood that they will need hospitalization. If they become infected with COVID-19, not only will the spread of the virus be difficult to contain, but it will also put further strain on critical hospital and ICU capacity in Nashville. We are deeply concerned about the health and wellbeing of our unhoused neighbors, our shelter systems, and the wellbeing of the larger community. We are all interconnected. For these reasons, we need your action now on these items:

  1. Make immediate emergency funds from Metro available to rent or purchase a facility that contains individualized rooms for people who show symptoms of COVID-19 and/or are awaiting test results. Sick shelters and facilities for isolation do not need to be housed in open spaces like Municipal Auditorium or the Fairgrounds where proper containment and distancing protocols cannot be followed and the safety of the guests cannot be ensured. Adequate facilities for sick shelters and quarantine/isolation include locations like hotels, motels, and vacant dorms or nursing homes.
  2. Create outdoor phone charging stations to allow people experiencing homelessness to call TeleHealth and emergency services and to safely remain in contact with outreach workers and other service providers. Metro should partner with businesses with outdoor power access, or look into covered, remote, solar-powered charging station options.
  3. Make the funding of affordable housing a priority in Nashville by dedicating at least $25 million to the Barnes Housing Trust Fund in this year’s budget. Not only are people are #UnsafeWithoutHomes, but national studies have shown that providing housing is ultimately less expensive than keeping people on the streets. 

We appreciate your efforts to ensure that all Nashvillians, regardless of housing status, are able to stay safe during this public health crisis.

Sincerely,
(your name)
(your address)


2. Email Governor Bill Lee and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally today! A sample email is below:

TO: bill.lee@tn.gov, lt.gov.randy.mcnally@capitol.tn.gov, gillum.ferguson@tn.gov
SUBJECT: ACT NOW! Homelessness and COVID-19

Dear Governor Lee and Lieutenant Governor McNally,

We are facing a dire public health crisis and must act now to ensure the safety of all Tennesseans, including people who are experiencing homelessness. Our neighbors without housing are often forced to congregate in groups to receive basic services like food and shelter. Many also have substantial health problems that cause them to be immunocompromised which creates a higher likelihood that they will need hospitalization. If they become infected with COVID-19, not only will the spread of the virus be difficult to contain, but it will also put further strain on critical hospital and ICU capacity across Tennessee. We are deeply concerned about the health and wellbeing of our unhoused neighbors and the wellbeing of the larger community. We are all interconnected.

In Nashville, we have a larger concentration of people experiencing homelessness and we need your action now to make immediate emergency funds from the State available to rent or purchase a facility that contains individualized rooms for people who show symptoms of COVID-19 and/or are awaiting test results. Sick shelters and facilities for isolation do not need to be housed in open spaces like the Municipal Auditorium or the Fairgrounds (as city officials have proposed) where proper containment and distancing protocols cannot be followed and the safety of the guests cannot be ensured. Adequate facilities for sick shelters and quarantine/isolation include locations like hotels, motels, and vacant dorms or nursing homes.

We appreciate your efforts to ensure that all Tennesseans, regardless of housing status, are able to stay safe during this public health crisis.

Sincerely,
(your name)
(your address)


3. Email Metro Council members today! A sample email is below:

TO: councilmembers@nashville.gov
SUBJECT: ACT NOW! Homelessness and COVID-19

Dear Council Members,

We are facing a dire public health crisis and must act now to ensure the safety of all Nashvillians, including people who are experiencing homelessness. Our neighbors without housing are often forced to congregate in groups to receive basic services like food and shelter. Many also have substantial health problems that cause them to be immunocompromised which creates a higher likelihood that they will need hospitalization. If they become infected with COVID-19, not only will the spread of the virus be difficult to contain, but it will also put further strain on critical hospital and ICU capacity in Nashville. We are deeply concerned about the health and wellbeing of our unhoused neighbors, our shelter systems, and the wellbeing of the larger community. We are all interconnected. For these reasons, we need your action now on these items:

  1. Freeze all evictions, foreclosures, utility cut-offs (including water, electricity, internet, and cable), and the acrument of late fees and fines by continuing to encourage public entities like NES, Metro Water, and MDHA extend a grace period, a non-payment forgiveness policy, and/or a generous repayment timeline through the duration of this crisis. We also urge you to pass a resolution calling on private entities to do the same.
  2. Make the funding of affordable housing a priority in Nashville by dedicating at least $25 million to the Barnes Housing Trust Fund in this year’s budget.Housing is health care. Housing ends homelessness. Housing is a human right. Not only are people are #unsafewithouthomes, but national studies have shown that providing housing is ultimately less expensive than keeping people on the streets. 

We appreciate your efforts to ensure that all Tennesseans, regardless of housing status, are able to stay safe during this public health crisis.

Sincerely,
(your name)
(your address)


4. Donate Food and Supplies

Glencliff UMC and the Village at Glencliff are organizing food boxes that will be distributed by outreach workers across the city as safely as possible to our friends staying at camps and to our friends for whom finding food right now is hard or dangerous. All food and supply donations from the list below can be dropped off in the back of the building in Glencliff’s Fellowship Hall. They can also be shipped directly to Glencliff UMC (2901 Glencliff Rd., Nashville, TN 37211).

We’re doing our best to educate our friends on the best ways to stay safe right now and hope you can do the same in your community. Metro has created this website specifically for homeless service providers and this website of resources for people needing help.Please help us spread the word about these action steps and resources. We know that housing is health care and it is even more apparent now. 

In Solidarity, 
The OTN Team

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Take it Easy

By Susan Adcock, West Side Outreach

Larry had a hard time staying at the hospital. I got to where I’d take his boots with me so he couldn’t leave. Toward the end it worked but he was pretty sick by then and didn’t fight as hard. Some of us professionals were offended at this behavior — this refusal of free health care, and labeled him an idiot for leaving against medical advice. Others of us knew that he was losing the war with alcohol and a lifetime of trauma. He started going to jail when he was just seventeen. The hospital felt like jail.

A month ago, after six months of weekly or bi-weekly visits to the hospital for congestive heart failure, Larry coded in his hospital room. Later, the doctor told me that no one on the team believed he’d make it to morning but somehow he’d miraculously survived. The doctor called me himself after digging through Larry’s wallet for evidence that someone actually cared about him. 

“The next time, it’ll be different,” he said. “He won’t survive it. He needs someone to give him ‘the mom talk’. Is that something you could do?” 

“Oh definitely,” I said. 

The next morning I walked into Larry’s room and without saying hello I said: “Do you want to be buried or cremated?” 

Without hesitation he said “Cremated.” 

“What do you want done with your ashes?” I shot back.

There was a long pause then while he thought about it and finally he said: 

“You decide.” 

“If you leave it up to me you’re going to end up at a beach” I said. 

“Sounds good to me,” he said grinning. 

I  went on to do the “mom talk” wherein I explained all of the things Larry already knew about alcoholism and dying of congestive heart failure; including brain damage and the chances of lying around in a diaper for two years after a massive stroke. Sadly, all things I’ve seen happen. He then repeats what I already know, which is that the only thing that will extend his life, even for a few months is a place to live; an apartment with a lock on the door and a bathroom with a shower in it.  When he’s finished I apologize (not the first time) to him for not being able to find him a house sooner because we both know he is going to die any minute, with the next pint or the next cigarette, or the next time he goes without food for two days. It’s just a matter of time.  

A week later he was back in. The doctor called me again, again his heart had stopped, and asked if I could come to the hospital and help him make decisions for Larry. I was there in twenty minutes. It wasn’t looking good and I knew that because they let me stay in the room and hold Larry’s hand while a team of five people saved his life again. This took about nine and a half hours across a shift change. By the time he was stable, he had a respirator, a heated blanket and twelve different drugs going into his veins. 

Twenty hours later the doctor called again to say it wasn’t working. It was pretty clear he’d suffered some neurological damage and wouldn’t be able to survive off the respirator. A few minutes later I walked into his room for the last time. I laid my phone at his ear and we listened to the Eagles and Bob Dylan for close to an hour and a half as the monitor above his head wound down from critical to nothing. Two nurses came in with stethoscopes. They listened and looked at their watches and each other, until the very last beat of his heart and a beautiful, complicated, hilarious misunderstood human spirit flew away into the ether. 

This is the cost of homelessness. Not only a human life but hundreds of thousands of dollars as well. People so thoroughly traumatized they can no longer function – self-medicate, fall into a shame spiral and never get out because they’re denied housing, one of the most basic survival tools in the kit. It’s suicide and murder, all rolled into one and my job, it would seem, is to make it stop. It’s like being in a fist fight every day. Some days it works and other days I just have to hold a someone’s hand and be a witness.


Epilogue: There will be a short memorial service for Larry on Friday June 28, at 10 a.m. at “the rock” in Centennial Park. “The Rock” is a marker for the Trail of Tears located at the front of the park, just across from McDonald’s. I presented written evidence that Larry wanted to be cremated to the city of Nashville’s indigent burial program, but I’m not a blood relative and it wasn’t a legal document. They consulted their attorneys and refused. So in the true spirit of Larry and his well of stubborn resistance, I’ve raised the money and will see that he gets to the beach next week.

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2019 Point-In-Time Count

Open Table Nashville’s statement on the results from the 2019 Point-In-Time Count: Homeless advocates claim homelessness is on the rise in Nashville despite lower count

On May 8th, MDHA reported a 14% decrease in homelessness in Nashville due to a lower number from the annual “Point-in-Time” (PIT) Count, but this number was never meant to tell the full story of what is going on with homelessness in Nashville.

While MDHA’s final PIT Count number only found 1,986 people experiencing homelessness, we estimate that approximately 20,000 people are un-housed in Nashville—a number high enough to completely fill Bridgestone Arena. For instance, the PIT Count only found 62 people in families with minor children this year, but according to the Metro Nashville Public Schools, 3,368 homeless children have been identified so far in the 2018-2019 school year—up 5% from 2017-2018. That does not include children whose housing status is not reported, the number of adults in their their family, or children who are too young to attend school.

Due to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s federal definition of homelessness, the PIT Count can only include people found in shelters, transitional housing facilities, outside, in a vehicle, or in abandoned buildings. MNPS and the Department of Education use a broader definition under the McKinney-Vento Act. As an outreach organization, we are on the streets day in and day out. We see new faces on the streets every week and know the names and stories of the people living without stable housing in Nashville who aren’t included in the count. We know the disabled couple who is couch surfing because they were evicted when a developer flipped their apartment. We know the mother and children living in a $250-a-week bug-infested motel while they wait on subsidized housing. We know the man who is in the ICU for a traumatic brain injury. We know the man who is in jail because he was arrested for trespassing for sleeping on private property. None of these people are included in MDHA’s PIT Count.

While we believe that homelessness will continue to grow in hidden and obvious ways in the Nashville area and beyond until we adequately address our affordable housing crisis, we are also proud of the ways homeless service providers, the Metro Homeless Impact Division, and others are working together to connect struggling individuals and families with housing in one of the tightest housing markets in the country. We are also making notable strides in decreasing homelessness among veterans and youth from ages 18-24 and that is something to be celebrated.