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, firstname.lastname@example.org). The majority of the land is owned by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.