Please take one minute to send the email below to let TN state legislators know that homelessness is not a crime!

HB0978/SB1610 would make solicitation or camping “on the shoulder, berm, or right-of-way of a state or interstate highway or under a bridge or overpass” a class C misdemeanor offense punishable by a $50 fine and community service work. It would also broaden the language within the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012 so that people could be prosecuted not only on state property, but also on all public property across Tennessee.

The bill is sponsored by State Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta). Last year, the Mayor of Cookeville tried to pass a citywide anti-panhandling bill, but it was defeated by advocates who spoke out against the bill. Rep. Williams then took this effort to the state level and is claiming that people in his community wanted this.

Please join us in telling our elected officials that *homelessness is not a crime* and that our friends on the streets need housing – not fines, not citations, not handcuffs!


SUBJECT: We Need Housing, Not Handcuffs – Vote NO on HB0978/SB1610



Dear Members Senate Judiciary Committee:

I am urgently writing to you as a concerned Tennessee resident to vote NO on advancing Tennessee House Bill 0978 (HB0978) and corresponding Senate Bill 1610 (SB1610). This proposed bill will further criminalize Tennessee’s most impoverished and vulnerable citizens for merely existing in public spaces without addressing the root cause of homelessness – the lack of affordable housing.

Here are four reasons why you should vote NO:

1) Criminalizing homelessness is not only unjust, but also adds additional barriers that prevent people from obtaining housing and employment. This bill will do nothing to truly help people who need social services, economic resources, and affordable housing. Handcuffs, fines, and citations can’t heal. Just last week, one of the men that Open Table Nashville (a homeless outreach nonprofit) is working with, was denied from housing because of a trespassing charge on his record from two years ago. (Even people who are approved for public housing through Section 8 often still have to get approval by private landlords to use their vouchers in local apartment complexes.)

2) Tennessee is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, and instead of pouring energy into criminalizing people without housing, we need you, our lawmakers, to invest in creating more affordable housing and lowering the barriers to existing units of housing. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, nearly one third of all Tennessee renters qualify as Extremely Low Income, and there is currently a shortage of at least 126,597 affordable homes for this income group across the state. In addition to adding barriers HB0978/SB1610 encroaches on protections granted by the 9th Circuit Court in Martin vs. Boise by criminalizing involuntary homelessness.

3) HB0978/SB1610 is fiscally irresponsible when you consider that housing people who experience chronic homelessness is less expensive than keeping them on the streets. According to multiple studies across the nation, an individual’s chronic homelessness can cost the public over $30,000 a year due to costs incurred through to use of emergency services and unnecessary and expensive interactions with our legal system. A housing-first approach would be both more fiscally responsible for the state of Tennessee and better for our communities by reducing the strain the experience of homelessness places on local hospitals, court rooms, and prisons.

4) In every major religion, there is a special concern for the poor and a mandate for people of faith and conscience to extend compassionate support. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” Isaiah 10:1-2a says, Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.” We are urging you as a leader of faith/conscience to do the right thing and care for the poor instead of criminalizing them.

For the above reasons and so much more, I ask you to vote NO on HB0978 and SB1610. I am asking that you vote on behalf of the thousands of unhoused Tennesseans who are also your deserving constituents. This bill will only further harm our neighbors without housing and make it even more difficult for them to obtain housing or employment (if they are not already employed, as we know the working homeless is one of the fastest growing subgroups of those experiencing homelessness). No one deserves to be without a home, and no one deserves to be criminalized for merely trying to survive. Tennesseans need housing, not handcuffs.

(Your name)
(Your address)


The Season of Giving: An Insider’s Guide

By Liz Shadbolt, Volunteer Coordinator


It’s that time of the year again! We’re all planning family meals, considering gifts to buy and receive, decorating and singing, enjoying time together, and reveling in the season. For many, this is also a time to think of those “less fortunate.” In our own abundance—of love, joy, and stuff—we start to think of those whose lives lack some of these and decide to do something about it. This is wonderful and definitely part of the spirit of the season! In this blog, I’d like to suggest some ideas and guidelines to make seasonal giving as effective as possible.

#1 ASK. Before starting a project or buying supplies or assuming the need, connect with the community you are giving to and ask about their needs. It may seem like a no-brainer that a group who works with kids needs toys or a food pantry needs canned sweet potatoes. But call, email, and ask. You may find that the children’s group needs baby care items or that the food pantry needs high-protein foods. By asking first, you could be the game-changer—providing for a real need where others have just assumed. Access our Winter Outreach needs here or email us at for details.

#2 PLAN AHEAD. Thinking about a group or family volunteer time during the holidays? Organizing a supply drive with your church, office, or school? First, see #1 for specific needs, then allow plenty of time for planning both for your folks and the organization you are working with. Remember that plugging into regular programming is almost always more helpful than planning a new event and that last-minute cancellations are really difficult for organizers. At Open Table Nashville, we run Resource Shelters on the 2nd and 4th Fridays all year round. We also have great groups who organize time to do special projects throughout the year—but either way, planning ahead is the key to success.

#3 CONNECT. Be sure you are subscribed to newsletters or following the groups you support on Facebook or other social media. This allows you to see the ongoing work, needs, etc. So many of our supporters and volunteers know that winter is our critical time and we get amazing responses each year as we post needs, ask for volunteers, and put together winter outreach teams. You can be added to our newsletter with this link and connect with us on Facebook here.

#4 THINK YEAR-LONG. Be sure to take a little of the holiday cheer you are feeling and tuck it away for another season. For us, winter is the hardest season. We always need extra hands for canvassing, extra meals for emergency shelters, and extra love and support for our staff. Other organizations face bigger hurdles during the summer or on school breaks. Go back to #1 and be ready to put a specific holiday project you might think of on hold for a different, more urgent time of the year depending on input from the organizations you are supporting.

One of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes is, I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” This speaks to the deep need we all have to connect with each other, to life each other up, and to be of help and service to our community. I gain so much joy in seeing our volunteers and donors in action—watching the love with which they serve and seeing the difference they make in the lives of our friends experiencing homelessness.

Since we’re talking about giving, here are a few additional ways you can support the work of Open Table Nashville:


Hope Is For Times of Uncertainty

By Myriam Shehata, OTN Intern


On Tuesday afternoon, as the last voters made their ways to the polls, Lindsey, Kathryn, and I took to canvassing: to find new camps and to see how our friends are doing and what they need as they anticipate winter.

It wasn’t until we circled our way back to head home three and a half hours later that I realized what a tiny little sliver of the city we had covered—we tried to spend a few minutes talking to everyone we found, but we had found tons of campsites and many more likely locations that we just didn’t have time to check. And we were only looking for new camps! In the likely spots, the locations that Lindsey knew we might have some luck finding people—behind train tracks, under bridges, in quiet woods—even these were full of new faces, folks who were new to town or new to this side of the country—folks who, for so many reasons had to pick up and relocate.

I’m a little surprised it took me this long to realize, but on Tuesday it hit me just how much our friends on the streets have to live on the move, continuously looking for better, and just how many of them find themselves so often in unknown and uncertain places, sometimes alone, forced to keep some kind of hope in the face of it all.

This capacity for hope overwhelmed me, because not too much reflection showed me that I am very good at having expectations and much worse at having hope.

I had expectations about a lot of things that happened this week. Starting from the minute I wake up each morning, I have anticipations and expectations of what the day will have in store. That Tuesday, I had expectations about how many people we would find in the woods. I had expectations about the limits of poverty and suffering in our city. And I surely had expectations about how Tuesday night would go. Of course, my expectations are not always so off the mark, but it’s when I found myself with expectations shattered that I realized how much I had been at a loss for hope—real hope. The kind of hope that acknowledges uncertainty and danger and fear and persists anyway. The kind that doesn’t depend on crystal clear skies and a wide safety net below. The kind that moves you to action, not to closing your eyes, crossing your fingers, and wishing for everything to return to what you’ve always known.

As we struggle to come to terms with all the changes in our city and our country, I keep coming back to the hope that our friends must carry with them as they pack up and relocate, always imagining something better. My prayer for the days and months to come is that in times of disappointment, anxiety, even shame, I may come to focus on and actively work towards the hope of our friends, a hope that we ultimately share: hope for a stronger, more inclusive, and more supportive community. Hope that we can come together and take part in the work of making this vision of justice a reality.



OTN’s 2016-2017 Winter Outreach Resource Guide

The official 2016-2017 Winter Outreach Resource Guide is here! If you have been wondering how you personally can help people you encounter who don’t have permanent housing or access to the resources they need this winter, you can find all the information you need to know in this guide. We cover available shelters, emergency situations, what you can donate, and more!

We recommend printing a few and putting them in your church, your car, or your purse so you’ll always have one on hand and know what to do in any situation and how best to help our friends. Download the resource guide here! If you would like to learn more about how you can help with our winter canvassing efforts, please visit our Cold Weather Response page or email


Love & Thanks,

The OTN Team


Relational Self-Care

By Haley Spigner

Everyone talks about “slowing down.” I usually struggle with the line between truly needing rest and being lazy. The line between taking enough time for myself and being too overprotective of my alone time. Am I not actually pushing myself hard enough? Or is guilt driving me to push too hard? If I actually ask my soul, I know the answer. But who has time for that?

Slow down. Make space. Allow yourself to rest. To process. To grieve. Smell the roses. Self care. Blah blah blah.

This work is literally life and death some days. What is slowing down? What benefit is there?

If I actually ask my soul, I know the answer. But who has time for that?

This week I sat with several people in some pretty dire situations. And for the first time in a while, I didn’t care how long it took. It didn’t matter. I didn’t rush. As I sit this evening and unpack my week, I am thinking back on what made this week so different than the last few months.

My first time meeting Richard was kind of accidental but I ended up being his ride home from the laundromat one day. I got there early and I was essentially a stranger to him but as he meticulously folded all of his laundry, he told me all about his life and his calling and visions he’s had. He asked about how I got involved with OTN and I gave him the short, clean, edited version that had become my rehearsed answer to that question.

I saw him a handful of times after the evening at the laundromat, one of the times being when I stopped by his apartment to check and see if he had seen a doctor about some pain he had mentioned. This quick check-in ended in me taking him to the ER. As we waited he asked me if I believed in Jesus and why people like us (Lindsey and I, specifically) chose to walk into “their” world.

This was only the millionth time I had been asked some version of Why on earth did you chose this work? Richard’s version of the question came out something like “Why do you chose to be involved in something so hopeless?”

“I don’t mean to make it an ‘us’ versus ‘y’all’ kind of thing,” he said, “but sometimes if I could get out of this family, this community of those on the street, I think I would.”

I attempted to offer him my cookie cutter answer but I had already told him the how of me entering this world at the laundromat. So he just stared at me blankly, uninterested in my boring response that didn’t get to the heart of things, to the parts of me that make me human and truly explain how I ended up in the ER with him at 9:00 PM on a Wednesday night. I didn’t have a prepared answer he hadn’t already heard so we sat in silence. I thought back to classes about tuning in to clients and appropriate self-disclosure and boundaries and tried to change the subject.

But he had shared part of his heart with me… and it was at that moment I realized I was unwilling to share mine with him. But I wasn’t sure why, especially considering that all throughout my social work education, I hated talking about boundaries. I wanted relationships, not clients and case notes!

But relationship are hard. And scary. And can hurt. And I realized I had been hiding from them, and instead resorting to “transactional work”:

I bring you the paperwork. I drive you to the ER. I help you figure out the food boxes near you. I call the landlord for you. No more. I don’t let you see my soul or my hurt. I don’t tune in because I don’t know what I could possibly feel if I do and I just can’t take that risk.

At that moment the “journey together” piece of our mission just clicked. I am here to journey alongside: relational versus transactional. So I talked: outside of my script, outside of my comfort zone. I was honest with Richard that this work is hard and scary and the last few months have been pretty rough. That I mess up and I don’t always (usually) know what I’m doing and that I learn best the hard way, unfortunately. Then the doctor came in and told us what we already knew and we left to get coffee. I’m not sure if the shift that happened in my being was apparent to Richard or not, but to me, it was a turning point.

It’s cool these days to be frantically busy and bustling and overwhelmed. Not to me. I want to move slowly enough that when I leave people, they don’t have to wonder if the blur that just came through talking at a mile a minute was me or not. I want to journey with my friends. That is why I’m here after all. I think I have been so afraid of tuning in and not having enough Haley to go around. But I tuned in better this week than I have in a long while and I finished this week more full than I have been in just as long.

I have heard my coworkers say a million times that we have something to offer and to gain from our friends. I never want to miss another opportunity to gain or to offer myself.

I think self-care is less about bubble baths or having technology-free time or making space and more about actually listening to your soul. I know at my core what is too fast or too busy. My heart knows. And the people around me know. People can tell when I’m rushing through my time with them. Richard knew I wanted to hide from his real questions. And he knew when I stopped being the social worker with all of the answers and became the person that was journeying through life alongside him.


The Most Dangerous Prayer

By Sarah Partee, 2016 OTN Intern


“I wish I had your life,” he turned and said to me. He was laying in a hospital bed with the murmur of the  television in the background. It had been a long night. The small room smelled of untended wounds and unwashed clothes. It was early and I do not like getting up early but I had to see him: I needed to know he was okay.

“Why do you say that?” I asked. I had met Eli only two days ago at the “Outreach Wednesday” foot clinic in the park across from the downtown library. I had no idea how much of an impact he was going to have on me. I took him to the emergency room no more than one hour after taking a look at his feet. He had a nasty cut and infection on his left foot. It was so swollen I didn’t understand how he had been walking on it as much as he was. But he didn’t have a choice. He didn’t have a stable home.

Eli turned and looked at me sitting in the cushioned, guest chair beside his bed. “You have two parents who love you and who are still alive. My mom was murdered when I was a baby and my dad has been in prison my whole life.”

My face became warm and I tried my best to hide the tears that welled in my eyes. That was not the response I was expecting. I thought he was going to tease me about how spoiled and privileged I was—as he had done a few times the night before. He went on to tell me how he grew up with his sister in foster care, suffered abuse, and started doing drugs and drinking at too early an age.

The night before I had stayed for a few hours in the waiting room with him until his name was called and he was put in a hospital bed in the hallway. After receiving an ultrasound, they discovered he had a blood clot in his leg.

It was getting late and I decided to leave him that night, hoping that the doctors would keep him overnight. If he was released, where was he to go? He told me he’d sleep in the park that night if he had to. His aunt’s place was too far away.

I went home that night to my parents house in Brentwood feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. The heavy weight of guilt overtook me. I have everything. A big family whose love I have never questioned, a nice car I didn’t have to pay for, a private school education, a closet bursting with clothes for every event and season, a perfect childhood, an incredible church home and foundation. Eli has none of these things. And he is just one story, just one person broken from the world’s injustices.

I went for a walk to clear my head. I prayed for Eli and for everyone who does not feel loved, who does not have a supportive community. I physically felt my heart breaking in half. I began sobbing for the people I’ve met… my brothers and sisters. We don’t choose what we are born into. Why was I born into a loving and supportive family where I never had to worry about where my next meal was going to come from? Why are others born into situations like the one Eli described?

I thought back to a time when I had prayed, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.” It hit me that night as I was walking: that is the most dangerous prayer I have ever prayed and it was happening right that very moment. My internship with Open Table had been one of the most eye-opening learning experiences I had ever had. I have been on a whole bunch of mission trips throughout my life—all over the country and world. But this poverty, brokenness, and injustice is in my backyard.

A part of me is thankful to God for breaking my heart for His children who are lonely, hurt, and discouraged. Another part of me is terrified to feel this way. I want to have this fire lit every second of every day so that I never forget. At the same time, I also want to gently put these feelings into a nice box so I can comfortably watch Friends tonight with a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

I will never be the same after this internship. I am thankful for a whole lot in my life but that is at the top of my list right now. I felt God planting a purpose in my heart, a calling to love His children from all different walks of life. I don’t know how that will look for the rest of my life but there is nothing I am more excited to do. I keep praying “Lord, continue to break my heart for what breaks yours. Disrupt my contentedness and make me uncomfortable.” I know now that those are dangerous words—and I repeat them over and over again so that progress will march on.