Tent City, U.S.A. – 2013 Updates

tent city, usaposted by Lindsey

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.

Tent City reunion, 9.26.13Open 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.”

celebration1If you would like to volunteer with Open Table Nashville, please contact regina@opentablenashville.org 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!

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72 comments

  1. Yay! Glad to see that Wendell is on the Commission. I hope there are three or four representatives on the Commission by now who are or have been homeless. If the Metro Homelessness Commission is content to cycle a single homeless person through one token seat, shame on them. And, I hope the contrived, Survivor-esque election process has been replaced or improved dramatically.

    Keep standing up for yourselves, Nashville homeless. Your stories and your collective voice are inspiring and powerful!!!

    1. A bit late, but better late than never. I am now considered a “high net-worth individual” by most standards, yet that wasn’t always the case so I believe I can add a bit to the aforementioned documentary. The plight of a homeless homeless may be largely understood (by myself, from my experience, at least) in terms of barriers to entry; the amount of money, security, etc. needed to realize benefits of social programs or to get a job is extremely high.

      Want to take advantage of some food programs or such? Great! You must have a physical address to do so. Want a job? Great! You must have reliable transportation to do so. Couple those catch-22’s with lack of advocacy for homeless (especially those with mental issues) and you can see how far out of reach even the simplest things like “Just get a job” are.

      Even living out of a car becomes a challenge; cooking meals is difficult due to campfire or propane stove restrictions, refrigeration is impractical, buying prepared food is not supported by many programs, washing all your clothes is impossible because the time (and money) it takes, any routine maintenance puts you completely out of commission, and finally, which address is your car primarily ‘garaged’ at is a difficult question to answer.

      If you have ever had to decide between heat or food, job or a roof over your head in the case of shelters, or anything of that matter, the question you ask answers itself. It is not a matter of helping yourself so much as the barrier to entry to get help is hard to reach.

      I implore you to research these problems, and to get first-hand information by helping out at a soup kitchen or shelter and asking the same question to the individuals you are helping.

    2. When or if you ever become unemployed, ill, disabled, or something else happens that you don’t expect and become homeless, let us know how that works out. MOST, not all, but most people that are homeless didn’t want or chose to become that way. And once there, it’s difficult to come out of it. Then, when looking for housing or work, people like you, judge them.

  2. I just finished watching ‘Tent City USA’, and it was a sobering dose of reality…There are so many homeless people all over the country, and what sickened me the most about that documentary was the attitudes of the townspeople in the city of Antioch…especially the Preacher! Shame on all of you who said, “You’re not welcome here.” Jesus said whatever you do to the least of his brothers, you do also to him…I just have one question for each of you: Would you be proud of turning your back on these people if Jesus asked you about it tomorrow?

    And in response to Michael…There are MANY homeless people who would absolutely ‘help themselves’ IF they were given the opportunity to do so…but when you live on the streets and have no clean & decent clothes, showers and basic hygiene needs not being met, no money, no shelter from the heat and cold, and barely being able to just feed yourself, it becomes even MORE difficult to get hired anywhere so that you CAN afford to ‘help yourself’. Yes, most of the homeless people have made poor decisions in their life which has brought them to this situation to begin with (and I’m relatively sure the majority of them have reflected long and hard about that and wished they hadn’t), but the point is, they NEED HELP to get them back on their feet, and we need to open up our hearts–both as brothers and sisters in Christ AND as a nation, and get rid of homelessness in this country instead of sending untold BILLIONS of dollars to other countries!

    1. I am watching it right now. I was so shocked to see what is suppose to be a man of God, talking that way. I’m only half way through now(I had to stop to fix my husbands lunch for work) but it really is such an eye opening documentary.
      I lived in Nashville from 2005-2007 and didn’t know this place existed. I actually lived in Antioch too(it’s literally right outside Nashville) and I don’t understand what the people were complaining about. They were acting like they were moving the homeless population into Beverly Hills. My brother still lives in Nashville and I visit there often. I plan on doing some volunteer work on my next trip. I have already set up a monthly donation for opentablenashville.org and look forward to helping this community out in any way possible.

      1. Wow I felt the same way you did !! These so called Christians !! Give me a break So sad !! It has inspired me to try to make change in my own community !! Reality check people. This could be you !!! I’ve visited Nashville and never would have thought humans would be so cruel

  3. The thing I liked about Tent City was the fact that the had rules that made it a community, not just a bunch of homeless people crashing alone in the same area. I don’t actually see anything wrong with being homeless.

    I would think the biggest problem of being homeless is the feeling of helplessness. Teach people lifeskills that promote a feeling of being in control and you can give back a sense of pride. I know not everyone who is homeless is there just because they can’t find work; some are drunks and addicts who wouldn’t take a job if offered because they can’t break their habits, but the ones who are wanting to improve their lives and those of their friends could benefit by learning skills to enhance the simple life.

    What I think is needed is programs in place to help them cope with the lack of what most Americans think are needed for a good life; plumbing, electricity, lots of material items. Has anyone here heard of a composting toilet? They are easy to make and not as nasty as an outhouse. Did you know human urine can be used as fertilizer? You just have to know how to use it. How come no one was creating a community garden ? That gives power back to people as well. I saw chickens; people can raise rabbits and fish, as well, without a lot of fancy enclosures.

    And there are literally TONS of good usable lumber thrown out daily in our cities that could be used to construct better housing, and if put on wheels, are even portable. Think Gypsy wagons, or in more modern terms a Tiny House. I’m not talking shipping pallets, either. Those fancy GrassHopper lawn mowers come in crates built of untreated deck planks, for instance. That wood goes to dumps in huge construction dumpsters. That is what I recycle. I’ve taught myself basic woodworking and carpentry and I seriously think anyone can learn it and it not only gives you shelter, but extra stuff can be sold, and scrap wood burns really nice as you relax on a chair or bench you created while you enjoy the night.

    1. Wendell I have been trying to find you on Facebook. I would love to talk with you. You are encouraging. Your inner strength magnifies as you continue to speak. If you want please email me so we can talk. Thank you

  4. Whatever happened to Macgyver? The gentleman who was living illegally in the woods? My heart broke for him and was hoping he found a job and a place to live.

    1. Tee Tee has been through some horrific experience’s while she was out on the street. Don’t know if you watched the doc but she does mention how she became so sick + emaciated that her ribs began to show. Tee Tee truly deserves her housing. If she is playing her playstation so what? Her home. It seems to me that Tee Tee has some sort of medical illness. Besides its no one’s business if she has a job or not. Whats important is that Tee Tee has permanent housing.

  5. Hi Wendell!
    What is the best way for individuals to truly help the homeless and below poverty income families? It seems the one-time donations are truly just a band aid.

  6. I watched Tent City on Netflix a few months ago and was truly inspired by how Wendell was able to get back on his feet. Just goes to show that one bump in the road can create a train wreck, but he was able to overcome it. I am from a small town in Upstate NY and we do not have homeless, yet. My sisters and I were in Nashville in March 2012 searching for my nephew, who is missing and was possibly seen there, and when we went to the shelters, missions, Centennial Park, and the Jefferson Street bridge, I was in total shock. I think I cried the whole time we were in Tennessee. We still haven’t found my nephew, Nieko, but what I did bring home was an understanding of how sad our world is, and more compassion for my fellow human beings. Sometimes all it takes is a helping hand to change someone’s life. God Bless you all.

  7. Just watched the documentary. What struck me most were the friendships and bonds that developed between the residents of tent city. If you are homeless, chances are that you have had some tough stuff go on in your life and having a sense of community/people who care may be as important as having a roof over your head. This seemed most pronounced with TeeTee and Mcguyver. I wish there was some way they could have all stayed together. Wendell- congratulations. I am sure you are wonderful addition to the commission.

  8. What an absolutely beautiful and inspirational story. Thank you all so much. I’ll do my best to help as much as I can up here in the Great White North.
    – All the way from Canada.

  9. I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS DOCUMENTARY EVEN THOUGH I WAS DISGUSTED BY THE POLITICIANS AND EVEN THE CHURCH MAN FROM ANTIOCH, DISGUSTED. HOWEVER I LOVE WENDELL, TEE TEE, VEGAS, STACY AND BAMA, MACGYVER, AND EVERYONE ELSE. BUT NO ONE HAS ANSWERED THE QUESTION. WHERE IS EVERYONE NOW? I REALLY WANT TO KNOW

  10. Truly amazing people. I feel ashamed to be part of the system that allows human beings to be treated this way. Politicians and society has a lot to answer for. With people like Wendell, Jeannie, etc. working tirelessly to fix a broken system I can only hope the future becomes brighter for the homeless. This documentary should be compulsory viewing in high school. How many of us are only a pay check away from being in the same position?

    I have just read this morning that Los Angeles has now become one of the 50 cities that make it illegal to feed the homeless! Compassion seems to be a word that is missing in a lot of people’s lives.

    Thinking of you all
    Jenny (Perth, Western Australia)

  11. I just watched tent city. And it was truly touching. I myself have never been homeless, did I grow up struggling? Yes became a young mother. ..yes. This is something that can happen to anyone. I think it is amazing how they all came together to help each other. I hope the best for everyone in that community. And let this open EVERYONES eyes that it can happen to any one. God bless them all. Congrats to Wendell!!!

  12. I just finished Tent City and it was pretty shocking. Especially because I live downtown Nashville and never heard of it. A lot of people say “get a job”. I have several years of accounting experience, a clean record and cannot find a job. I live with family. It’s very sad that they are building numerous expensive condos downtown for the young and rich yet do little for their neighbors. Let me tell everyone that doesn’t live here that Antioch needs to worry about their gang problem before the homeless. It is riddled with litter and slum housing. The residents there seriously need to focus on something else rather than picking on homeless that are in fact staying on PRIVATE property. My entire family is from Nashville. There is much more to Nashville than fame and music. We are the volunteer state, so let’s volunteer. When people come to visit they remark how nice we are. We need to extend that graciousness to our fellow neighbors that lack an address. I am fortunate to be central to this issue. I live next to Capitol Hill. I plan to do that I can to help.

  13. I have been homeless I know the negative effects of community on the homeless. I am disabled and on ssi they give 700 dollars a month I barely have enough money to pay my bills. I was shocked to see how the church people in Antioch are turning their backs on the homeless. I use to live in reno where there was a tent city they come shut it down but didnt give any solution to the homeless issue. I also had a service animal perscribed by a dr but I couldnt have them if staying at the mission. Being married my wife and I couldnt even eat together. I am a big supporter of street outreach and I would be helping if I was there. Remember do unto others as you want done to you and put yourself in the shoes of a homeless person and try and understand there are many reasons people become homeless especially in todays economy. Allot of homeless people arent looking for hand out but a hand up. Some are homeless because they cant find housing a mistake Iade over 20 years ago still makes it hard for me to find housing that is suitable. Try building more affordable housing and maybe more of the homeless will be housed. Wendell you go guy.

  14. I could see early on how the young women would be and was intemadated be the commission. Wendell will be a great person to see results and see it move forward. Jeannie Alexander is simple amazing !! Love her energy.

  15. Watched the documentary I am a social worker who has worked with the homeless and addicted or mentally ill. It is a tough job but was very rewarding. It is such a disgrace that in this country people have to live in the streets and there is not adequate housing. I like that the people supported each other and I hope that they all find permanent housing! Wendell was amazing and he is a true angel. He is proof that there still are good people left in this world. I wish him and all the others in the documentary nothing but the best!

  16. I just watched this movie this weekend, and I was disgusted (by the response of that other city), and inspired by the work and the community that was evident in Tent City. I was thinking…if the residents started a garden, collected rain water for watering it, and raised chickens…maybe a goat for milk…they could become more self-sufficient. I am disabled and understand totally…it doesn’t take much to be homeless. Not at all. I would love to help get gardening, etc. started. I live in Alabama, a 4 hour drive away from Nashville and have a car. If I could help, send me an e-mail (kdewees@gmail.com).

    Katie

  17. Just watched tent city, it really touched my heart and inspired to do more for others and also to be thankful for what I have

  18. Hello,

    I would like to know what happened with Vegas and Tee Tee? I can’t help much, but I would love to try to figure out something for them.

  19. I’m glad to see the work your doing and hope you guys fix your problems.I will say I can’t believe a man of God (Rev.Rodney Beard) would turn away his sheep.

    Also Jeanne Alexander you are powerful and beautiful.

  20. I, like Kimchiaustin, would like to know what happened to Tee Tee and Vegas, and whether Stacy graduated. Also, Wendell, do you know what organizations we can donate to that will do the most good?

  21. My heart goes out to those who are homeless. I spent three years of my life on the streets. Hitchiking from the age of 16 to 19. I’ve slept in the worst places all across the country from Austin, Texas too Nashville. I have to admit though of all the places I stayed Nashville scared me the most, but I remember one time before I was homeless being in Nashville for a concert and I wandered down to the waterfront. I was cold, and a homeless lady came out of nowhere and gave me her jacket to wear. She told me her story, about her daughter who was well off and wouldn’t let her stay their. It broke my heart, I’ve met so many wonderful people when living on the street. People who have nothing yet are willing to share. If only more people opened their hearts like that.

    Don’t judge someone because their homeless. I have found some of the most kind hearted people are the ones out their living on the street. Shame on anyone who talks about “why don’t they just get a job” I tried, and the minute many employers found out I was homeless they snubbed me and turned me away.

  22. This documentary gave me a greater appreciation of the plight that the homeless go through. Such as Mcguyver speaking of the little things like how will he wash his clothes. We have a large homeless population in my area as well and I see many hanging out in my neighborhood near downtown, but I never wondered before what their story was or how they got there. This was a real eye opener. Wendell, I hope the Homeless Commission is making great strides with you on board. You are an inspiration. I also would like to know how the rest of the cast has been and if Stacy graduated. She seemed to have her life moving in the right direction.

    1. Where are these people now? I will be traveling to Nashville on sept 17 2014 and would love to donate anything that is needed. If someone could please reply and give me an update and what I can do to help.

  23. Watching tent city USA on Netflix now, about halfway through. Was feeling sympathetic, but come on, I see a case of beer, everybody smoking cigarettes, dogs with food. Come on now get your fn priorities in order. Can’t feel sorry for those who don’t want to help themselves. You can create u our own little government in “tent city” but can’t find a job, I see now hiring signs everywhere, apply yourselves or keep complaining about how bad things are. I feel no pity for y all, instead of asking for handouts why don’t you put your hands to work. My 80 yr old grandmother has a job at Walmart no reason your lazy ass cant.

  24. Like many others, I just saw Tent City USA on Netflix…I hope the former lawyer/homeless advocate woman negotiated deals so the participants receive royalties for all of the replays.

  25. Wendell I’m so happy to hear you are still helping the homeless and continue to do God’s work. I just watched Tent city and I am looking forward to finding out what I can do to help in my community to assist those in need. Thank you to everyone in this film who showed us what it’s like to struggle with homelessness. I see this film as a call to action for those of us whose want to be part of the solution.

  26. Wendell, have yall tried setting up a
    Gofundme.com account? All the attention from Netflix could generate some serious revenue, that could possibly be turned to purchase land. I’m sure you guys have thought about this. I lived in clarksville tn during the flood of the Cumberland, I drove through Nash like on my way back from military training. Seeing this movie through me back to that time. I left the military and have been nearly homeless as recently as this year. A death in the family, a abusive marriage, anything can cause homelessness for some people unless you are wealthy or have wealthy family propping you during these situations. Many people will not hire a homeless person and you must have an address to receive programs like food stamps in wic. I was inspired by how you were turning the space near the Cumberland into a community and really feel like that could of worked for you guys if the land had been privately owned if you had some backing and could organize the tradesmen and volunteers in your community.
    Bless you guys and keep warm!

  27. I Just watched the documentary. What a beautiful community, I was very touched by this film. Congrats Wendell for being given the seat on the homeless committee, you will be great. I would like to know what happened to the rest of the gang, I wish they would do a follow up. I too was ashamed of the so-called pastor in Antioch, what a disgrace. I pray that you are all doing well.

    God Bless!!!
    Molly

  28. To the one person asking why don’t the homeless help themselves? Well they are aren’t they? I’ve heard that Wendell is now on the Metro Commission, Tent City is part of the solution since there is a shortage of affordable housing. Let me say this…this is a problem NATIONWIDE! Stop picking on the homeless will you? There are greedy real estate developers coming into communities & raising the rents SKY HIGH! Poorer neighbors hoods as well. And guess what? A lot of people can’t keep up with the rising rents. Everything keeps going up! But wages are stagnant if that is your lucky enough to earn a wage to begin with.
    Here in Washington State here is out it plays out here. Say for example you’ve been living in your apartment for 10 or maybe 15 years. Then one day the greedy real estate developers come on in to build more luxury property, or maybe buy the building that you have been renting for years & years.
    Guess what will happen?
    The property is sold, the rents are raised through the roof and if you can’t pay that new rent…..the real estate people are like …..”oh well not our problem” EVICITION.
    Then Boom your butt is out on the street.
    Think it can’t happen?
    It already has many times over here in the not so great Pacific Northwest….SEATTLE! where our homeless population is swelling.
    I’m proud of the Nashville Tent City residents especially Wendell.
    To Antioch TN…Shame on you. Your most unchristian.

  29. Antioch aka Anti-ick! a bunch of bourgeois morons. And that pastor in that on scene in Tent City sitting on all his fancy furniture sticking up his nose? What theological school did he attend? Just curious cause he sure didn’t sound like any man of the cloth.

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