The documentary “Tent City, U.S.A.” was recently added to Netflix and we have been getting a lot of questions about where the residents are now and what is going on. Tent City, U.S.A. tells the story of Nashville’s largest Tent City before and after the devastating flood of May 2010. While many of the residents have been able to access housing, others have not. Finding safe places to sleep or camp in Nashville remains difficult, especially for people who can’t (or won’t) seek shelter in traditional places like the Mission – people who have pets, who work non-traditional work hours, who have spouses/partners, or who simply can’t handle the harsh, jail-like environment of our over-crowded shelters. While we have approximately 4,000 men and women who are unhoused every night, we only have about 1,500 units of shelter and transitional housing. There are over 100 smaller encampments in the Nashville area, but the “new Tent City” in Nashville is less than a mile away from the old Tent City and is at Green Street Church of Christ. For nearly 2 years now, Green Street has allowed people to live in tents on their property while they are working on finding permanent housing. Church leaders are claiming religious land use (RLUIPA) to do that which can trump city codes and zoning ordinances. Wendell recently built a privacy fence for the camp (or “sanctuary”) and we do outreach there and work to help the residents access housing and other needed services.
Open Table Nashville, an inter-faith non-profit, was formed in the months after the flood. Jeannie Alexander and Doug Sanders, who were featured in the documentary, were co-founders of Open Table along with Ingrid McIntyre, Lindsey Krinks, and Brett Flener. If you’d like to join in the work we’re doing, visit our website at www.opentablenashville.org. Our mission is to disrupt cycles of poverty, journey with the marginalized, and provide education about issues of homelessness. We are still connected to and involved with most of the people featured in the documentary, and Wendell Segroves was recently appointed to the Metro Homelessness Commission! These are our friends. As aboriginal organizer Lilla Watson once said, “If you’ve come to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
If you would like to volunteer with Open Table Nashville, please contact email@example.com and if you’d like to donate to the work we’re doing, please visit here. Jeannie Alexander is still connected to issues of homelessness, but her daily work now involves working with prisoners. Doug Sanders is no longer a presence on the streets or in the camps and has moved into other sectors of work, but Open Table continues to do the good work that was documented in Tent City, U.S.A. Please join us in this work and spread the word. Breaking cycles of poverty and homelessness and transforming unjust structures takes all of us working together!