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Call To Action

On June 1st, city officials and MNPD plan to clear and close the homeless encampment under the Jefferson Street Bridge, fence off the area, and “relocate” all remaining residents to Tent City – another encampment just south of downtown where newly announced development plans are  calling the camp’s future into question. Displacing residents who have nowhere to go and closing off public space are violent patterns that further entrench people in cycles of poverty and homelessness.

At Open Table Nashville, we believe that everyone has a right to safe and dignified housing. It is inhumane to close encampments when there is not enough affordable, accessible housing for those in need. While efforts are being made by service providers to connect residents with housing, it is both cruel and dangerous for Metro to consider moving the remaining residents to another crowded encampment that is also slated for closure. 

We also believe that everyone has a right to exist in public space. It is a misuse of public funds to pay for a fence that will prevent Nashville residents from receiving needed services on public land. The land beneath the Jefferson Street Bridge is significant because service providers like The Bridge Ministry have been providing services there for nearly 20 years. The services offered by these private, service-oriented, and faith-based groups have sustained untold thousands, providing food, clothing, toiletries, camping supplies, bicycles, community, and so much more when the city and state both failed to do so. The coverage of Jefferson Street Bridge has sheltered people from inclement weather and the 2020 tornado. It has served as a refuge to people who couldn’t get into Nashville’s shelters: couples, pet owners, intergenerational families, medically vulnerable, and others with barriers. Public property, paid for by taxpayers, should be used for the common good. 

In their “Tent City USA” report, the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness states, “Using the criminal justice system and other municipal resources to move people who have nowhere else to go is costly and counter-productive, for both communities and individuals… Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a larger return on investment.” Current guidelines from the CDC offer similar guidance: “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.”

More humane and cost-effective alternatives to using taxpayer dollars to displace people and fence off public spaces include:

  • Offering hotel vouchers to residents who are waiting on housing. FEMA is currently offering 100% reimbursement rates for communities providing non-congregate shelter to individuals and families experiencing homelessness through at least September 2021 (see FEMA Statement 2021).
  • Creating a committee under the Nashville-Davidson County Continuum of Care (COC) to explore the creation of a sanctioned encampment. One successful model of a city-sanctioned camp is Camp Hope in Las Cruces, New Mexico that plays an integral role in the city’s response to homelessness (see p. 66 of “Tent City USA”).
  • Using the funds that would go into installing and maintaining a fence beneath the Jefferson Street Bridge to create a public park.
  • Investing in housing, education, health care, public parks, libraries, and other services and divesting from the criminal legal system, policing, and incarceration. The safest and healthiest communities are the communities with the most resources. 
  • Investing in Housing First models. Housing First provides housing and support services before requiring the person to obtain stable employment, be sober, or have all their mental/physical health needs addressed. Decades of research shows that housing is a necessary step in order to stabilize these other areas of life (see Family Options Study and Pathways Housing First Study). 

If you’re interested in following this story or taking action, you can:

  • Follow Open Table Nashville on social media where we will post updates.
  • Contact Governor Bill Lee’s office (615-741-2001, bill.lee@tn.gov). The majority of the land is owned by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

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CALL TO ACTION!

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!

SAMPLE EMAIL:

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

TO: sen.mike.bell@capitol.tn.gov Sen.Dawn.White@capitol.tn.gov sen.paul.rose@capitol.tn.gov sen.todd.gardenhire@capitol.tn.gov sen.sara.kyle@capitol.tn.gov sen.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov sen.kerry.roberts@capitol.tn.gov Sen.Katrina.Robinson@capitol.tn.gov sen.john.stevens@capitol.tn.gov

CC: rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.govsen.paul.bailey@capitol.tn.gov
sen.randy.mcnally@capitol.tn.gov

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.

Sincerely,
(Your name)
(Your address)

Blog

Outreach for a Day

Hello, Friend!

My name is Susan, and I’m an outreach worker with Open Table Nashvile. I wanted to say thank you for your support and let you know how your gifts help me do my job. The easiest way to do that is to give you an idea of what a day in my life with Open Table looks like.

On a recent day —

Irma* picked up the brochure and began fanning herself with it. After a few seconds she read the words on the front and looked at me repeating them: “I’m a survivor.” She said it again, “I’m a survivor, Susan.” “In so many ways,” I said, filling out her follow-up paperwork. Whether she couldn’t see it, couldn’t read it, or just didn’t have the patience to complete it was unknown to me. A lot of people I work with can’t read. This gets them into all manner of medical, legal, financial, and housing trouble.

The waiting room was full, and now silently engaged in our conversation. Except for a television tuned to HGTV, and us, it was quiet. We talked about who got shot at Kwik Sak a couple of weeks ago. Irma was convinced I knew the victim but didn’t know who the shooter was. “Probably about drugs,” she said.

A few minutes later, a nurse opened the waiting room door and called Irma’s name. We both got up, and the nurse stopped me going in. “Am I not allowed to go?,” I asked.

“We’ll come get you in a few minutes,” she told me.

“Don’t leave me, Susan,” Irma called over her shoulder as I returned to my seat.

“I won’t leave you, Irma,” I called back.

People in the waiting room laughed. “Comical,” I thought. Then it dawned on me that all of us probably had some variation of the same feeling of abandonment. It was nervous laughter. That’s the thing with Irma. She makes you feel your feelings. Without even trying, shows you not only who she is, but who you are. She humbles me every time we’re together.

After her appointment, I drop Irma off on Murfreesboro Pike and return two calls and a text on the drive back across town. During the trip, I stopped in the street to speak to Chainsaw* and Terry*, who frequently need all their belongings replaced. They both sleep in doorways and abandoned buildings. Desperate people steal their things all the time; sometimes people even take their shoes. They ask for underwear. I tell them I’m out, but that I have socks and other items they might need. They ask for the sleeping bag visible in my backseat. I have to tell them that it’s for someone else and that I’ll get a couple more tomorrow. They tell me they love me and wish me a “blessed day.”

The phone rings again. This time it’s a social worker, trying to get insight into one of her clients, who’s currently in the hospital. “Are you helping him with housing?,” she asks. “And how is that going?” He is facing a potential amputation, and I tell her I think he will be denied housing. I also tell her I’ll continue to try. I won’t leave him, either.

I’m driving around, searching for Tom*, not knowing this is the day he’s chosen to return to rehab. A week ago, Tom was released from rehab, 150 miles away. The story goes that he was told they didn’t have a bed for the full thirty days, but that if he would call them in a week, they’d make it happen. So he came back to Nashville for the week to spend time with the only people he knew, friends who had not been to detox. Tom spent the weekend sleeping on the ground with no coat, falling off the wagon, and hating himself.

When I find him, I offer to take Tom to the thrift store for a coat. His emotions, worn thin by fate and circumstance, overtake him once he’s in the car. When Tom is upset, he stutters and cries; the two things feed each other. There’s nothing I can do but listen and hand him napkins. The tears are streaming into his lap by
the time he gets his questions out. They’re all questions I can’t answer:

“Why are people so broken?”
“Why doesn’t anybody care about us?
“How can they just leave people out here to die?”

Tom apologizes repeatedly for being so upset and asks if he can use my phone to call the rehab. Arrangements for his return include a Greyhound bus ride the following day at 6 a.m. and someone to pick him up at his destination. It takes two hours to confirm everything. Tom’s hope is restored by this plan and a $16 thrift store coat.

My phone is still ringing. This time it’s a pre-trial release officer calling to remind me of someone’s court date. The person doesn’t have a phone. I am now tasked to find him and let him know.

At 3.30 PM, the phone rings again, and a property manager at one of the housing towers asks if I can move someone in at 10 a.m. the following morning. It’s the third time in three weeks this has happened. This manager has backed up each time, having overbooked their move-ins and choosing to skip over my guy again. If I say I can’t move him in or that’s not enough time, they’ll move on to the next person on the list. “Yes,” I say, not sure I can actually find him, “we’ll be there at 10.”

And then I got up the next morning and did all the same kinds of things again.
I’m able to do my job, because of your gifts to Open Table Nashville. Without them, I wouldn’t have sleeping bags and socks to distribute. I wouldn’t have gas in my car to take Irma to the hospital or a mobile phone for Tom to use. I ask you to make a donation to help fund another day in this life. Irma, Tom, Chainsaw, Terry, and I all thank you.

Sincerely,

Susan Adcock
Westside Housing Navigator and Outreach Worker
Blog

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)

Blog

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/

Blog

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]