Rally for the Right to Exist and Palm Sunday on the Streets

This Palm Sunday,  April 1st, join us for worship, a rally, and a sleep-in to protest the criminalization of homelessness. Just as Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem, wept over the city, and embraced the suffering therein, we also enter our city, weep over the injustice we see, and embrace the suffering, seeking to transform it.

Do you think it is a crime to be homeless?

Do you think law enforcement should engage in “social profiling?”

Do you think it should be possible for people to be locked away for a year in jail and charged with a $2,500 fine just for sleeping on State property?

If you don’t (or even if you do), you’re invited to a “Rally for the Right to Exist!”

What: Nashville homeless advocates will host a “Rally for the Right to Exist” with food, teach-ins, documentaries, music, and discussions culminating with a mass “sleep-in” to stand (and sleep) in solidarity with our unhoused neighbors and to support the civil and human rights of all, particularly the poor and homeless. This rally and act of civil disobedience is intended to draw attention to Metro Nashville and the State of Tennessee’s onerous anti-homeless laws. The event is part of a larger bi-national day of action with more than a dozen other cities across the United States and Canada participating to raise awareness about the ongoing criminalization of homelessness in our communities.  

Where: Legislative Plaza, 301 6th Ave. North, Nashville, TN 37243. (In case of rain, check our Facebook page for this event.)

When: Sunday April 1st from 1:30pm until Monday April 2nd at 7:00am. (Come whenever you can!)

Schedule of Events:
1:30 p.m.         Free lunch with Food Not Bombs
3:00-4:00         Meditation, talking circles, and Palm Sunday worship with Amos House
4:00-5:00         Mobile foot clinic
5:00-6:00         Pot-luck dinner with music (bring food if you can!)
6:00-6:30         Welcome and introductions
6:30-7:30         Teach-ins including “Know Your Rights” and “Criminalization in Nashville”
7:30-9:30         Screening of a documentary
9:30-Sunrise    Sleep-in on the Plaza

Who? Everyone! Students, families, unhoused friends, advocates, activists, couch potatoes, legislators, service providers, the faith community, the non-faith community, and everyone in between!

Why: On March 2nd, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed HB 2638/SB 2505 into law, making camping, sleeping and cooking on state property a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by almost a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. In addition, “quality of life” ordinances enforced by Metro Nashville Police officers have disproportionately targeted members of the homeless community for carrying out non-criminal acts in public spaces, especially since 2007. Laws that prohibit sleeping on public property and staying too long in public passageways may make our cities more “attractive,” but the downside of these “quality of life” laws is that they criminalize the very existence of people with nowhere to go. Furthermore, these arrests and citations make it more difficult to get a job and housing and further perpetuate the cycle of poverty with court fees and jail costs. On any given night, there are not enough shelter beds or affordable housing units to accommodate everyone in need. Hundreds of men, women, and children have no place to go save the streets and public spaces, yet these laws further victimize them for doing so. Furthermore, in Davidson County alone, vacant housing units (24,479 in 2010) vastly outnumber the people who lack affordable housing (approximately 4,000).

Nashville Stats (Summary Report of Committee on Police/Homeless Issues to the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission, February 7, 2011):

– From 2004 through 2009, the number of physical arrests by police for obstructing a passageway increased by approximately 500% (from 102 in 2004 to 520 in 2009).

–  From 2004 through 2009, the number of physical arrests by police for public intoxication more than doubled (from 2029 in 2004 to 5,031 in 2009) DESPITE the existence of Room in the Inn’s “The Guest House” which exists to provide a less expensive, more holistic alternative to jail for those who struggle with addiction issues.

– As physical arrests of homeless individuals for “quality of life” offenses were increasing between 2004 and 2009, the number of state citations issued during that same period of time drastically reduced.

National Stats (Western Regional Advocacy Project – WRAP):

– Since 1995, the United States has lost over 290,588 existing units of public housing and 360,000 Section 8 units with another 7,107 approved for demolition and disposition since March 2011. In those same 15 years, over 830,000 new jail and prison cells have been built.

– While citizens suffer and are criminalized for simply trying to survive, the banking and financial industry continues to contribute to homelessness. In the last 15 years, 2.5 million foreclosures have taken place, an additional 6.9 million foreclosures have been initiated, and a projected 5.7 million borrowers are at risk. Many of these foreclosures are the direct result of the speculation and predatory lending environment that banks created in order to increase their own profits. Banks have been bailed out while millions of homeowners find themselves in foreclosure proceedings. In Middle Tennessee, as a result of the federally-negotiated foreclosure settlement involving the state’s attorney general and big mortgage servicers, foreclosures are expected to occur at a more rapid rate, spiking by 15% in 2012.

(For more info on this day of action, visit WRAP – the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s website.)

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