The Revolving Door of Criminalization

The other night, my friend, Jill (not her real name), one of the most vulnerable people I know on the street, called me for a ride from Antioch Pike and Harding. She’s past 50, and she has been suffering PTSD from an terrible incident from this past spring. And why is she calling me at 8:30pm, other than that I have been working to help her get housing and care? Because on this stormy night, she has no one else to call, and the police have just let her out of jail far from anywhere (as they typically do people released from jail), when buses don’t run reliably to the part of town she is staying in. And why was she in jail? Because she was at Room in the Inn and a guy stole some $20 from her, and she called the police, only instead of arresting him, they discovered she had a warrant out for her arrest and so arrested her instead. And why did she have a warrant out for her arrest? Because a couple of months ago she was walking back from Room in the Inn the couple of miles to where she stays when it started raining, so she ducked under the awning of a downtown church to wait out the thunderstorm, and a Metro cop saw her and graciously gave her–she has no money–a citation that she can’t pay instead of hauling her into jail that very night. And on what grounds did she get a citation? Because sometimes the church understands it to be a Christian duty to have anyone seeking shelter on their property arrested automatically for trespassing (a so-called “trespass waiver”). And why did she not pay the fine? Besides the fact that she has no money to pay fines and court costs, like most of the homeless in Nashville? Because at the time of the court date, she was hospitalized for the severe PTSD and so had been unavailable to attend to pay the court costs and fines she could not afford and did not deserve.donotpassgo

This scenario of petty criminalization repeats itself dozens of times per week in Nashville, pushing people further and further into desperation and homelessness. Not everyone on the street, of course, suffers from PTSD from a terrible incident as an adult. Some were abused as children. Others neglected, or bullied, or raped. Some are depressed and anxious because of losing a job and difficulty in supporting a family. Or suffered PTSD while fighting for our country. Or any of those thousand little ways our lives have of falling apart. Most often they lack support circles. And our best answer to their problems is to fine or arrest them at every turn, lock them up for non-payment of court costs and fines, then arrest them again a while later, starting the whole cycle over again. Criminalizing people experiencing homelessness costs us–Nashville alone– millions in court costs and futile policing, and it costs people who are already suffering their dignity, their recovery, and sometimes their lives. It also costs us our humanity.

Samuel Lester

OTN Outreach

Thanks for your support!

1470066_700917699919489_102173879_n - CopyWhat we do at Open Table Nashville cannot be done without the financial support of the individuals, community and organizational partners who share the vision and work we do.

In 2013, we are excited to report that we accomplished the following with only two staff members (until we were joined by Regina and Lindsey in the fall).
Our operating budget for 2013 was also under $150,000. At Open Table Nashville, we make a little go a long way!

12,557 volunteer service hours (that’s over 300 work weeks!)
62 friends moved into permanent housing
278 home visits
77 shelter nights (Emergency Warming and Resource Shelters)
2,627 friends sheltered on those nights
195 furniture deliveries
98 birth certificates ordered
$12,238 given in rent and utility assistance
1,037 people who received OTN education sessions
123 food boxes given to feed hungry households
360 people housed since June of 2013 through the collaborative, city-wide How’s Nashville housing campaign

If you’re in a position to help continue this amazing work, please consider making a financial contribution today.




Posted by Lindsey Krinks

Last week, we had four people in the same hospital: a hit and run, a baby born early, and two broken bodies driven to madness by broken minds. I cannot fathom what it would be like to feel my flesh and bones give way to a rush of metal, to give birth to a child without a home, to be haunted by voices no one else hears. I walked the sterile, weaving, windowless hallways feeling heavy, reminding myself I cannot fix people. They said both his legs were broken, that his lungs were not fully formed, that she was severely malnourished, that he would get to keep his feet. Plastic tubes with legal drugs spilled into their veins quieting the voices, numbing the pain. For now, they will all make it, but in their varying states, what do they hunger for? Is it stillness, silence, reprieve, escape? Is it human touch, meaning, answers, grace? When I visited him, he could barely speak. He opened the slits of his eyes long enough to know I was there, that it was me, and reached out for my hand. He took my hand in his, squeezed it, and kissed it. He knew he was not alone, and for the moment, that was enough. Read more “Hunger”

5,500 reasons to be thankful


Welcome to Spring! The calendar has turned, the weather has warmed and we have 5,500 reasons to be thankful.

When the temperatures drop below 25 degrees, OTN coordinates Emergency Warming Shelters to accommodate unhoused individuals who can’t or won’t go into traditional shelters.

The numbers are in – and they are AMAZING! This winter, with the help of volunteers like you, OTN: Read more “5,500 reasons to be thankful”

How Anderson Cooper sees homeless people now

Recently, Anderson Cooper and the crew of 60 Minutes spent some time with our Open Table Nashville community. In the hours he spent with us, learning about the lives that were changed, he, too, was transformed.

When asked about the impact this report had on him, he had this to say:

It really changes your perception of the problem of homelessness and the people who end up being homeless…we all have support networks. We all have family and friends and a job and things that support us when we trip. These are people who have burned through those support networks. And that’s really the only difference. Read more “How Anderson Cooper sees homeless people now”

We’re on 60 Minutes!

Check out this press release about the upcoming 60 Minutes show that features our joint efforts to move our friends off the streets and into permanent housing:

From: Tedesco, Kevin
Sent: Friday, February 07, 2014 1:52 PM
Subject: Housing the Homeless Can Save Money – 60 MINUTES

February 7, 2014


The  “100,000 Homes Campaign” Has Already Gotten 80,000 People Off The Streets

Advocates for the homeless say providing apartments to those who have been on the streets the longest and are at greatest medical risk can actually save taxpayers money.  Even if these people have not yet received treatment for substance abuse or alcohol problems, getting them off the streets often keeps them out of hospitals, where the cost for one night is more than a month’s rent in many places.   Anderson Cooper reports from Nashville, one of the cities that have joined the 100,000 Homes Campaign, for a 60 MINUTES report to be broadcast Sunday, Feb. 9 (7:00-8:00PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Read more “We’re on 60 Minutes!”