Today, one of Nashville’s largest and most visible homeless encampments was quietly bulldozed and closed by TDOT—Tennessee Department of Transportation—and Metro. One lone tent remains under the Ellington and Spring Street underpasses where over 30 once stood. When the eviction notice was issued for February 19th, many of us asked why. Why would our government evict people from their homes in the heart of winter, when it’s below freezing? Why would they evict people when there’s an affordable housing crisis and waiting lists are closed or stretch on for countless months?
And then it hit us.
Just two months from now, over 300,000 people are expected to flood into Nashville for the NFL Draft. The festivities will include a 3-day football festival held in the parking lots and areas surrounding Nissan Stadium—right around the former Ellington camp.
It is no secret that “sweeps” are common before major events. While we can’t be sure that is what is happening here, we’ve seen the same thing happen before the CMA Festival, before the Super Bowl in Atlanta, and before so many other other large-scale events: people experiencing homelessness are told to “move along,” cited and arrested for petty offenses like “obstructing the passageway,” and camps are cleared.
It seems to us that Ellington camp is the latest casualty in the ongoing clammer for cities like Nashville, Atlanta, Seattle, and others to present a cleaned-up image of ourselves to the world. This cleaned-up image seeks not to solve issues of homelessness by investing in and planning for enough affordable housing to meet the need, but to sweep the our disenfranchised neighbors under the rug—deeper into the woods and deeper into our jails and prison systems where they can’t be seen, where they can’t be heard, where their presence can’t offend those with money and means.
So where did everyone from the Ellington camp go? Mostly out of sight, out of mind. Mostly to other illegal encampments. We saw one former resident last week in the woods south of town who had just relocated. Others are heading north or to other outlawed patches of woods. A handful of folks were also able to enter programs or receive bus tickets home thanks to the work of really great outreach workers. And in the last year, at least 9 other residents moved into permanent housing, but not without years of work and years of waiting. (6 of those people were moved in by our east side outreach worker Haley!)
So let us be clear. As long as camps are being cleared, as long as people are facing displacement, we will keep standing in the margins with them bearing witness. We will also keep pointing toward solutions. We know that housing ends homelessness. We know that building a 100-unit Service Center downtown is a start, but it isn’t enough. We have to come up with a plan to create the 31,000 units of affordable housing we will need in Nashville by 2025. We need every Nashvillian to ask their elected officials to make this a priority and to mobilize their faith communities, coworkers, and friends to do the same. We are deeply grateful to everyone who is raising their voice with us and our friends to make a difference.