We Remember

Today we pause to remember friends who have died this year. There have been so many. Our hearts are heavy, but we are grateful to have been able to share a leg of the journey with them. They have each shaped us and changed us, and we carry them on in our hearts and in our work for dignity and justice. Rest in peace & rest in power, dear friends.

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Clyde joining us for a weekend trip to the farm in Normandy

Clyde moved to Nashville from the northeastern U.S. and lived on the streets of Nashville for years. He had a sharp analysis of issues of homelessness, housing, and mass incarceration and spoke on a panel with us at the Downtown Library about the criminalization of homelessness. Clyde was well-loved by many who took him into their hotel rooms and apartments. There are countless stories of Clyde standing up for others, helping them, and breaking up fights. He was an advocate and peacemaker at heart and we were thankful to share part of his journey with him. Shortly before the holidays in 2014, he went back home to Virginia where he was hit by a car. Clyde is missed and we will always remember the laughs and conversations we shared with him and the impact he had on so many. – Lindsey

 

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Tim and Bob on move-in day

Timothy Waggoner passed away on February 1, 2015 at the age of 50. He was a Nashville native from a large and loving family. He struggled with his health for many years and was faithfully cared for by his partner, Bob, until the time of his death. Tim loved mischief and cats. He was celebrated in the end when his whole family gathered to tell stories about him and release colorful ballons into the sky. He was wheelchair bound in life but finally set free. We give thanks for his friendship. –Lauren

Sally Herz
Sally relaxing at home

 

Sally Herz, “Babygirl,” dear and devoted partner to Woody Nell for 45 years, and friend to many, died on February 24th. Sally was independent and loving, with a sharp sense of humor, a love of fishing, simple pleasures, and a keen zest for life. At her time of death, she and Woody had been in housing together for about a year. He cared for her faithfully and tenderly until the end. She will be missed by us all. – Samuel

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Robert volunteering at the Resource Shelter

I met Robert McMurtry in the summer of 2012.  We weren’t fast friends because he was always trying to hide from me when I first started visiting his camp.  But there was something about his eyes.  So I pursued him.  Robert had a lot going on. We started where we were – in an abandoned, flooded out trailer park.  Over the next few months we worked on his health, addiction problems, and housing.  In June of 2013 he was one of the first two people housed in our “How’s Nashville: 200 people in 100 Days” campaign.  Later, he was featured on 60 Minutes when Anderson Cooper interviewed him about his experience of being unhoused.  His story helped share, on a national platform, a way of life that often goes unnoticed.  A little less than 2 years after getting housed, Robert passed away from liver failure.  It was fast.  I was glad he didn’t struggle long.  I’m also glad that he had built a community for himself that helped him get through every day – which included helping at our Resource Shelters.  I’m thankful for this kind and funny man in my life.  I learned a lot from Robert in our short 3 years together. –Ingrid

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Deb in her younger years

Debra Johnson passed away on April 6th, 2015, at the age of 49. She was born and raised in Michigan then moved to Nashville, where she spent about ten years without housing. In 2014, she moved into her own apartment in Madison, shortly after a diagnosis of cancer. She is survived by her father and stepmother, Ed and Shirley Krieg, her son, Justin, grandson, Evan, and her five siblings. Debra enjoyed singing karaoke at downtown honky tonks and doing jigsaw puzzles. She was fiercely independent and real, and underneath her guarded exterior was a tender heart and a friendship that meant the world to me. She was unlike anyone else I’ve ever known. Whether she realized it or not, she shined on us and will be deeply missed. – Lauren

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Alabama on the day he moved into housing

“Alabama” was a main-stay on the streets of East Nashville for over a decade. Because he had trouble walking and refused to be confined to a wheelchair, he pushed a shopping cart all over town. He collected cans for spare change and drank alcohol to numb his physical and emotional pain. Everyone on the eastside loved and respected Alabama and has stories about how he helped them at one point or another. He was arrested over 360 times, mostly for petty things like trespassing, and he desperately wanted off the streets but was unsure how he would find a place. We began working with him and got him into an apartment, but his struggles continued. He ended up moving out of his apartment and to a hotel across the street where he died. In his last 6 months, Alabama wasn’t arrested once and his friends surrounded him. He had Irish in his blood and died from physical health complications on St. Patrick’s Day. We will always remember him as fiercely determined, relentlessly stubborn, surprisingly caring, and as a dear friend who always made us laugh. – Lindsey

Danny Costello
Danny in his new home

We knew Danny Costello was sick when we met him. He was living in a camp on the eastside of town where he was surrounded with drama and fighting. Danny was quiet and loved fishing and going to Shelby Park, but he struggled with addiction issues. He had a hard time claiming his own self-worth and forgiving himself for past circumstances and mistakes. We met him through our emergency winter shelters and we started working on his housing. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given 6 months to live. He was beside himself with grief and so fearful that he would die alone under a bridge. He moved into his own apartment in February and had a stable place to rest and be with his friends during the last months of his life. Even though his last months were filled with hospital visits and more drama, Danny passed in the hospital surrounded by family. We are thankful that Danny is no longer in pain and pray that he is surrounded by the nature and wildlife that filled him with peace and awe.   – Lindsey

Five Year Anniversary

Dear friends,

Believe it or not, this week marks the five-year anniversary of Open Table Nashville! Five years ago this week, Nashvillians were working together to stabilize and rebuild in the aftermath of the flood, displaced people from Tent City and all over Nashville were sleeping in Lipscomb University’s Red Cross Shelter, and homeless outreach teams were working round the clock to gather supplies and find safe camping space for over 140 unhoused friends who were flooded from the banks of the Cumberland River. At this time five years ago, sick to death of seeing our most vulnerable neighbors slip through the gaps that exist in our social service networks, the idea for an alternative community was born out of the waters of chaos. The Open Table founders had a vision of holistic healing for broken bodies and spirits to be re-membered into their community. We committed to being a voice that would disrupt the cycles of poverty that crush the marginalized, to walking side by side as friends with the friendless, and to educating people about the roots causes of homelessness.

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The original Hobson House crew

What a journey these last five years have been! Our first crisis response effort in the wake of the flood was a temporary encampment in Antioch, on land donated by the Beaman family. From there, we moved to the parsonage at Hobson United Methodist Church and created a one-of-a-kind transitional community house where residents had the opportunity to rest, heal, share, and re-build on their way to permanent housing. In the spring of 2013, the parsonage was sold, and we stepped back to imagine again how our scrappy team of outreach workers and volunteers could best stand in the gaps.

David and Teresa recently moved into their new apartment –– the last of the original Hobson House crew to FINALLY have a place of their own!
David and Teresa recently moved into their new apartment –– the last of the original Hobson House crew to FINALLY have a place of their own!

We’ve always believed in the Housing First model of care that says the safety and rest of permanent housing is the first and most vital form of “treatment” people need in recovery and is a human right. It just so happened that the How’s Nashville campaign (based on Housing First) was incubating that winter and spring, and we were able to jump into the planning and implementation full force. This marked a transformative year for our city as collaboration between government entities, homeless service providers, and the private sector turned a vital corner. We all joined efforts, finally planning and working together to end chronic homelessness in Nashville. In the first 2 years of this campaign, our city has housed 1000+ people, and the OTN team has personally provided the outreach, housing navigation, and support for 205 of those folks! We cannot stress enough how vital these collaborative partnerships and our willingness to share resources are in tackling homelessness, maintaining housing retention, and in changing the perception of homelessness in our city.

We are growing and changing, too. In the past five years we have grown from an unpaid staff of 1 to a staff of 5 full-time and 2 part-time folks, and a dedicated board of directors. We’ve been through some lean times and some deep heart-aches, but we have never given up or been abandoned. We recognize (and frequently recount) all the people who have showed up along the way to offer prayers, funds, and helping hands when we needed themIMG_1220 most. We give thanks for all of you who have shown up in a pinch, saved lives in the darkest winters, brought meals, pulled strings, raised money, hauled furniture, kept vigil in hospital rooms or camps, marched with us, sent encouraging notes, and ridden out the storms with us. We are truly grassroots –– funded and held together by the might and love of hundreds of people.

We’d like to thank you all in person, and we invite you to our Anniversary Celebration on September 17th at Acme Feed & Seed! We can’t wait to celebrate with you the work of these last five years, and we’ll unveil the results of our strategic planning committee and all the good things we hope to do in the years to come. Stay posted for more news and an invitation to follow!

Until then, as always, feel free to email liz@opentablenashville.org to plug in at a resource shelter or become a monthly donor.

With love,

Your OTN family

2014 Highlights

In case you’ve ever wondered what it is that we actually do at Open Table Nashville, here is a numerical overview of some major victories in 2014:

Outreach calls responded to: 4,357
“Home” & hospital visits: 428
Bus passes: 1,761
People receiving first aid care: 189
Birth certificates ordered: 86
New state IDs: 59
Transport to and advocacy at appointments: 349
Housing/resource meetings with friends: 593
Donated furniture pick-ups: 135
New households receiving furniture: 198
Overnight shelters: 156
People who attended OTN trainings or educational sessions: 1,720
Beds filled through shelters: 4,180
Made possible by 13,115 volunteer hours

And finally –– 91 PEOPLE moved into permanent housing in 2014! (That’s a whopping 47% increase from 2013). There is still so much more to be done, but we rejoice in the community partnerships, support from volunteers and donors, and hard work done by these individuals themselves to make these life changes possible. We are so thankful for YOU, and thankful to be on this journey together.IMG_1220

Advent Reflections from Justin

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by Justin Williams, OTN intern from UT’s School of Social Work

This winter has seen me revisiting the likelihood that Dr. King had me in mind when he lamented those of us “more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

I can’t pinpoint who or what exactly is responsible for bringing this particular quote to life. Perhaps it’s the now-routine experience of dropping people off in front of tents at the cusp of freezing temperatures… or watching an undernourished friend give away the last of his deli meat to a newcomer at camp just minutes after I’ve selfishly consoled myself for all the gas used to drive across town to let him spend the last of his disability check at the grocery store. Maybe it’s the burden of a mental rolodex now full of countless faces that cycle through my thoughts every time I see someone sitting alone on a park bench… or it’s simply the growing numbers of concerned Tennesseans willing to disrupt patterns of violence with their bodies while I fret over due dates on an academic syllabus. In any event though, the onset of winter seems to have conspired with Open Table Nashville just in time for the Christian tradition’s observance of Advent to begin again unsettling and ministering to my uncertain presence within these complex times.

In the wake of another sorrowful Black Friday (which included an 89-year-old Salvation Army volunteer being trampled to death as he collected donations outside a Kmart), it seems necessary to recall the ways in which the commemoration of Advent offers potential for deep subversion of the social religion of consumerism and pseudo-spirituality that marks the worst of our culture’s relationship to the holiday season.

Advent, positioned at the heels of Thanksgiving and leading up to Christmastide, is situated at the intersection of gratitude and a spirit of discontent rooted in longing, expectation, and discomfort with the prevailing order. It is about anticipation amidst uncertain times and requires that we celebrate spaces of abundant mercy and love while lamenting any instance of their absence as we build the courage and faith to act prophetically for their promised restoration.

adventAdvent, if recognized rightly, invites us to sit amidst the tension between furious longing and satisfied anticipation. For want of space (and lest anyone accuse OTN of trying to outdo Marxism!) I won’t include the full passage of Christian scripture here, but the challenge of Advent is fully captured by the Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise that the Gospel of Luke uses to frame the arrival of Jesus into a world in which the appearance of the reign of God is rendered upside-down when overlaid with a socio-political orientation that has lost its bearings and skewed towards the rich and powerful. She rejoices in—and accurately reinterprets for us—the reality of what already is while siding with the dejected and the dispossessed.

As a fledging social worker, I’m drawn to the language of “parts” used in the Internal Family Systems modality of psychotherapy to discuss the presence of inner-personal exiles and I’m intrigued by the potential application of such concepts to sociological functioning. In IFS, “exiles”—a personification of the aspects of our individual (and perhaps collective) Being marked by the pain of fear, trauma, and shame—are suppressed by two other distinct parts that aim to either numb and distract or preemptively protect and police our consciousness and behavior. Though IFS is potentially a powerful metaphor for psycho-spiritual journeying, this winter has served as a profound reminder that the season of Advent is surely an invitation to not only internal transformation but as well to the social upheaval and role reversals of which Mary sings.

Already in Nashville, people without respite from the elements are dying unnecessary deaths in spite of a concerted effort to implement cold weather protocols for outreach and emergency shelter. Chic urban development and broad gentrification in line with the city’s emerging economic growth exponentially increases while a dire affordable housing shortage is exacerbated as existing units disappear and the poor are increasingly criminalized when they experience homelessness.

Advent is a season that was born in the hearts of a people who knew of divine intentions to establish a kin-dom of peace… and yet they hung their indigenous harps upon the willow tree (Ps. 137) and suffered much as exiles and captives beneath the rule of unjust power.

campOTN lives in close proximity to those all too frequently held captive by a gauntlet of forces both internal and institutional. Though we are no longer in Babylon or under Roman occupation, we all have ways of naming the colonization of our spirits and—for those engaged in a daily struggle for survival or those of us fortunate enough to sit at the feet of discerning voices that have been exiled—there is little doubt that our sisters and brothers, both elder and infant, contend with the same rubric of systemic oppression that provides the context for the birth narratives that so many celebrate (though often extracted from their social implications) every December.

Though I know there are many with past and present experiences of the harshness of life on the streets that will say OTN has served them in times of need, their presence in my life is an equally profound saving grace in light of the risks of dulled appreciation and a numbed sense of liberative longing that can so easily creep into the holiday seasons passing through my life of privilege.

The authors of the Christmas Gospels subvert triumphalist conventions of imperial birth narratives at every turn. Providing a genealogy that stumbles and stutters through a lineage of unsavory men and blatantly scandalous women, they emphasize their Hope’s status as an impoverished and powerless baby born to a refugee father and his teenaged wife, displaced from their home by a census demonstrating arrogant imperial power and control (perhaps a theme not unfamiliar to those contending with the American criminal-industrial complex). Showing a preference for the margins over political and economic centers of power, the Prince of Peace’s lowly birth within a cave for beasts of burden was heralded by a band of outcast shepherds comparable to the migrant workers that pluck our fruit… or perhaps the friend of OTN that this afternoon could not contain a wide-eyed grin at the prospect of having his felonies overlooked with the hope of an opportunity to clean toilets at a middle school.

unnamed (4)Given the manner in which the subject of Advent was first recognized, those banding together in illegal camps and freshly accessed public housing units can’t help but add to my understanding of the ever-deepening concepts symbolized by the candles of Expectation, Hope, Joy, and Peace in my childhood Advent wreath. While exposure to the experiences and perspectives of those marginalized by economic class, white supremacy, and mental health are not in any way new, there remain limits to my capacity to transcend myself with empathy or eliminate the need for teachers; thus their successes and failures, reflections and silence, all challenge and faithfully refashion my acculturation to a status quo decidedly incapable of nurturing the characteristics of Advent. I enter urban camps or approach broken-down cars—the meager fortresses of survival that our neighbors without homes depend upon—and I am engaged with a transparency that echoes my longing for real shalom that requires deep transformation on inextricably linked personal and societal scales while risking no threat of being diminished by true gratitude for the ways in which daily bread sustains and life perseveres.

Walter Brueggemann notes that the task of prophecy is “to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.” Though I am convinced that housing is a human right and that establishing a permanent residence is the first step in empowering those experiencing homeless to address further bio-psycho-social needs, so many counted among the homeless of Nashville already have much to teach us about alternatives to the dominant cultural myths. Those we work alongside provide moorings in something deeper and truer than the seductions of a status quo that degrades us all but appears more natural to some.
This is good news indeed.

art2 - CopyAnd when we who endeavor to share life with society’s most vulnerable lament the litany of barriers to full dignity that they help us understand—from relationally brutalizing substance abuse and seemingly irreparable family estrangement to dehumanizing legal discrimination and disempowering apathy sometimes masked as “ministry”—we do a disservice to their presence among us by not recounting as well the joy and thanksgiving to which their lives so often bear witness. Neither story tells the whole but both stories must be told, for we sit between exile and thanksgiving, a present reality in which thrones of injustice seem insurmountable while yet the lowly are promised exaltation as the hungry receive their fill. In my short time at OTN, there has been much to beg mourning and to incite anger… but people continue to navigate the housing process and establish homes for themselves in which their physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs can better be pursued.

Though I will continue to be convicted by Dr. King’s prophetic witness, the season of Advent provides a timely environment to sit square in the middle of tension that fosters holy anger, risky hope, support needed to defy fear, and the cultivation of graciousness and exuberance towards all the ways in which life cannot help but prove abundant.

As long as some of our neighbors depart prematurely from a world that couldn’t even identify them with a full name… while a new friend of mine (a confessed and convicted murderer, no less!) proves to have a pastoral touch that could never be imparted through institutional seminaries, Advent achingly and graciously continues.

Homeless Memorial Reflection 2014

We come together today with weary hearts. We have lost so many friends this year, so many loved ones. Today, death hangs heavy in the cold air… death and injustice. They hang like strange fruit from the trees. We carry in our bones the grief, the loss, the memories. We carry in our bodies, our lives, the ways we were changed by the people on this list. They taught us how to love, how to laugh, how to struggle, how to weep.

Poet Adrienne Rich writes, “My heart is moved by all I cannot save. So much has been destroyed.” And today, our hearts are moved. Many of the people on this list died before their time. Some were found in campsites, others on park benches. Some were surrounded by friends when they passed, others died alone. And while their names are on our lips, we look around our city here in the heart of downtown.

We look around and find that we’re surrounded by new development, we’re surrounded by public money pouring into new high-end condos and centers for entertainment while our friends die without homes. We’re surrounded by the sound of bulldozers leveling small homes to build larger, more expensive ones in their stead. We’re surrounded by a society that is defunding housing, mental health care, substance abuse programs, and food assistance and increasing funds to jails and prisons. And we watch as the body count rises. Yes, so much has been destroyed.

So we stand here in this cold and ask why. We stand here and wonder where is hope? We wait with open eyes looking for a sign, looking for something, someone, to break into all this suffering and violence and bring good news.

And as we wait, our mind fills with the memories, the stories, the lessons learned from our friends who have passed. What did Delores teach me? To love. What did Jamie teach me? To laugh. What did Diane teach me? To struggle. What did Robert teach me? To weep.

So we stand here in the shadow of coffins, in the shadow of progress and development, and realize something else. In our grief, we are not alone. In our anger, we are not alone. Look around at your brothers and sisters gathered here today. Some of us are friends, some of us are strangers, but we’re united in our love for the people we came to remember. We’re united by our hunger for justice, our hunger to create a better world where people aren’t found on benches and in campsites, alone.

So in this season of winter, Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, where we await good news and liberation and warmth, let us rekindle the memories of those who have passed and let us rekindle the spark of hope in our own hearts. We are not alone.

Together, let us bear witness to the reality of the streets in a city that does so much to push it out of sight, out of mind. Let us wade through injustice and grief, through violence and death, and let our feet pound the pavement in protest, in prayer. Let us feel our collective lament, our collective love, and our collective power and wield it to bend handcuffs into house keys. And then together, with God’s grace, let our very breath, our very marrow, our very being, be the in-breaking of hope, equality, and justice in this world.

As we read the names of all the departed, let us recognize that they are, in many ways, present with us today, that their stories of struggle and loss and hope will continue on with us, and that our memories of them will fuel our work to create a better world.

Written by Rev. Lindsey Krinks