Ending Unjust Criminalization

Many of our friends experiencing homelessness bounce back after short episodes of homelessness. However, far too often people fall into chronic homelessness, making it difficult to get back on their feet. Open Table Nashville joins with community partners to get people into “housing first.” Only with the stability housing provides can the chronically homeless begin to rebuild their lives. And it has been proven over and over to save communities money. It costs some $14,000 per year to support someone with a case worker in permanent housing, but more than $35,000 (often much more) for all the services someone living on the street uses. And how would we put a price on the suffering and misery people condemned to street life endure?

  • Legalizing sleep: People in Nashville are cited and arrested for sleeping, resting, and camping when they have no place else to go. If you are on the street, one of the hardest things to get is a decent nights sleep. Yet studies show lack of sleep has terrible effects on physical and mental health and decision making. Even if everyone could go, there is not enough shelter space. The mission is crowded and often unworkable, especially for people with jobs, couples, and pets owners. Police sweeps of camps persecute the unhoused by driving them from one “illegal” encampment to the next, pushing them further into poverty and making it all the more difficult to escape from homelessness. Can you even imagine the trauma you would feel if the police came to move you from our home every month or so? Of course, new people move back into old camps and into new camps yet undiscovered until the cycle starts all over again. The city wastes millions of dollars sweeping people from under one part of the rug to another, destroying lives and losing property in the process. Federal courts and the US Justice department have declared arresting people for the crime of sleeping when they have no where else to go is unconstitutional, and the city risks its federal housing funds supporting getting people off the street if it continues. Housing ends homelessness. But until we can house people, criminalizing them for necessary acts of daily living only pushes them further into trauma and despair. We need to come up with legitimate places, sanctioned encampments, as a city, and unsanctioned camps need to be tolerated where possible. It is not enough to say, not in my backyard. We know people are sleeping in all areas of the city: they already live nearly in our backyards. There need to be sanctioned areas where people can go without getting arrested. We are working with the Homeless Commission to find more humane solutions.
  • The CARE Act: The proposed Compassionate Assistance and Right to Exist act, or CARE act, aims to do 5 things: (1) protect the rights of faith groups and other organizations seeking to assist people experiencing poverty and homelessness; (2) protect everyone’s right to life and liberty, and prioritize the safety of everyone on our streets by focusing on people who commit crimes rather than those who are participating in acts of daily living like sitting, sleeping, or simply existing in public; (3) save taxpayers and the State of TN money by reducing needless jail and court costs; (4) remove obstacles to stability that un-housed people often endure such as the loss of property, IDs, and driver’s licenses, barriers to employment, and unpayable fines, court costs, and jail time; and (5) ensure that the State of TN addresses homelessness as an economic and social issue and not a criminal one. We will be sharing more information about how you can support the CARE act as it comes before the legislature in the spring.