Happy Birthday, Mr. Whiskey

By Lauren Plummer, Outreach and Program Coordinator

Friday night at the Barth Vernon UMC Resource Shelter we got to celebrate our dear friend’s 59th birthday.


“Mr. Whiskey,” as we affectionately know him, was recently freed back into the care of his friends and community from the walls of a CCA prison. When I met him a little over three years ago, he was sleeping in a parking lot in Madison, had recently had a few heart attacks and triple bypass surgery. He was drinking a lot to console himself about hard times and all the loved ones he had lost, but he’s always had a tender heart and prides himself in looking out for his friends. We partnered with a SOAR outreach worker who helped him get approved for disability benefits. Somehow, despite his terrible health, he had been previously denied, so when his back payment came, he had enough money to purchase a small mobile home. He finally had his own place after eight years on the streets, and it seemed like a dream come true.

Less than two months later, it all came crashing down. A misdemeanor for public intoxication put him in violation of his probation, and he was sent to a private, for-profit prison for two years. In that time, his home was confiscated by the trailer park, and his health continued to disintegrate. He was released from prison to the streets late this summer, with a failing heart and without a penny to his name. While we are so glad to have him back in our arms, his mischievous storytelling back in our lives, and hilarious voicemails back in our inboxes, he has come back to us weaker and more vulnerable than before.

What kind of society locks a person in a cage and calls it treatment? Takes away someone’s home and community and calls it rehabilitation? Turns him out on the street with nothing and calls it justice served? Mr. Whiskey, and everyone suffering under the weight of systemic poverty, racism, and injustice—of predatory policing, substance abuse, mandatory minimums, for-profit prisons—we see you and will fight alongside you for as long as it takes. May we all surround you with love and the divine power of community. Let this be the year we manifest housing, healing, and hope together, with all of our neighbors.

Happy birthday, friend. There are better days ahead.

An unlikely friendship

Friendship sometimes develops in the unlikeliest of circumstances. Two weeks ago I found myself in just this situation–a friendship that offered both pain and joy.

One of the friends whom OTN has worked with for years was brought into the Emergency Department for severe frostbite in both of his feet. This friend, whom I will refer to as “Jed,” was quickly transferred to the ICU because doctors found that his organs were failing. The OTN staff and volunteers had already been swamped with multiple days of emergency warming shelters and cold weather canvassing, so I offered to visit Jed. I had not then realized that it was the beginning of a friendship.

While we waited at Jed’s bedside it became apparent to the hospital staff that he had a strong community surrounding him. Family members and friends often visited him, and complete strangers sent their thoughts and prayers for Jed’s healing and comfort. When the snowstorm blanketed all of Nashville a few days later I breathed a prayer of thanks that Jed was not out in the freezing temperatures. Instead, he was receiving excellent care from his hospital team. At the same time, though, my mind was painfully aware that many others faced suffering and life-threatening conditions because of the extreme weather and no where to go.

At the ICU, amidst the constant activity of attending nurses and physicians, came the sound of Jed’s dialysis machine. At one point in the middle of the night I listened to my new friend’s breathing, then slowed mine down in tandem with his inhale and exhale.

Many factors separated our lives up to that point, and yet in that moment, the most important aspect we shared was so basic: we both needed to breathe in order to live.





In Greek pneuma, the word for breath, can also be translated as “spirit” or “soul.” As the rhythm of our breaths coalesced, I prayed for my friend, that he would experience life and strength in both body and spirit. Yet this friendship was not one-sided. Watching Jed fight for his life also offered healing to me. Like many of our friends on the streets Jed had experienced significant trauma and brokenness in his life.

Witnessing his vulnerability opened up areas of pain in my life that also needed healing. As I sat in his room there seemed to be so little to offer him; however, the more time I spent with him the more apparent it became that sharing in each other’s presence was a life-giving gift.


Teresa Pecinovsky is a third year MDiv student at Vanderbilt Divinity School and the English Ministry Pastor at Hanshin Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville. Teresa spent the 2014-2015 school year as a field education intern with OTN and now volunteers with the community.



How Anderson Cooper sees homeless people now

Recently, Anderson Cooper and the crew of 60 Minutes spent some time with our Open Table Nashville community. In the hours he spent with us, learning about the lives that were changed, he, too, was transformed.

When asked about the impact this report had on him, he had this to say:

It really changes your perception of the problem of homelessness and the people who end up being homeless…we all have support networks. We all have family and friends and a job and things that support us when we trip. These are people who have burned through those support networks. And that’s really the only difference. Read more “How Anderson Cooper sees homeless people now”

We’re on 60 Minutes!

Check out this press release about the upcoming 60 Minutes show that features our joint efforts to move our friends off the streets and into permanent housing:

From: Tedesco, Kevin
Sent: Friday, February 07, 2014 1:52 PM
Subject: Housing the Homeless Can Save Money – 60 MINUTES

February 7, 2014


The  “100,000 Homes Campaign” Has Already Gotten 80,000 People Off The Streets

Advocates for the homeless say providing apartments to those who have been on the streets the longest and are at greatest medical risk can actually save taxpayers money.  Even if these people have not yet received treatment for substance abuse or alcohol problems, getting them off the streets often keeps them out of hospitals, where the cost for one night is more than a month’s rent in many places.   Anderson Cooper reports from Nashville, one of the cities that have joined the 100,000 Homes Campaign, for a 60 MINUTES report to be broadcast Sunday, Feb. 9 (7:00-8:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Read more “We’re on 60 Minutes!”

OTN receives nominations from Tennessee Alliance for Progress

Ingrid and LaurenGreat news, Friends!

The Tennessee Alliance for Progress has nominated Ingrid McIntyre for their Long Haul Award. They have nominated Lauren Plummer for their Young Leader Award.

These awards celebrate “the work of Tennessee’s exemplary progressive activists.” We know Ingrid and Lauren join Lindsey in evolving both human services and theological witness in ways that care for whole persons in tangible ways. We also know that while Ingrid, Lauren, and Lindsey are being noted here as distinguished Tennesseans, they are truly leaders for the nation and the world. We are so blessed to serve with and be led by them. You can what the nominators for Ingrid and Lauren wrote about their exemplary work on the link. Read more “OTN receives nominations from Tennessee Alliance for Progress”