jeannie alexander

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!

Tent City, U.S.A.

Last night, the documentary “Tent City, U.S.A.” aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. This documentary tells the story of Nashville’s Tent City before and after the devastating flood of May 2010.  Unfortunately, not enough has changed since the flood. Now more than ever, we need an officially sanctioned encampment in Nashville. Metro Police have been targeting all unsanctioned encampments including former Tent City resident Macgyver’s last campsite which was destroyed by the city about a month ago. With harsh anti-homeless and anti-camping laws, Nashville needs a safe zone for all of the people who can’t  (or won’t) seek shelter in traditional places like The Mission – those who have pets, who work non-traditional work hours, who have spouses/partners, or who simply can’t handle the harsh environment of our over-crowded shelters. While we have approximately 4,000 men and women who are un-housed every night, we only have about 1,500 units of shelter and transitional housing.

We need a safe-zone or an officially sanctioned encampment. We need more outreach workers like Jeannie Alexander, a founding member of this community. And we desperately need more accessible and affordable housing.

Open Table Nashville, an inter-faith non-profit, was formed in the months after the flood and has taken Hobson House under its umbrella. Jeannie and Doug, who were featured in the documentary, were also co-founders of Open Table. 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. They 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.”

Faith and Facts: A Look At the Death Penalty

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Panel Discussion and Q&A with Jeannie Alexander, Charles Strobel, and Stacy Rector March 15th 8:30pm-10:00pm Gault Fine Arts Center Recital Hall Martin Methodist College, Pulaski TN

It was early January and I was lying awake unable to sleep. I had just been led by God to the decision to host and coordinate an Amnesty International Death Penalty Action Week on my campus at Martin Methodist College. After struggling with my insecurities on whether or not I of all people could pull something like that off, I had decided that I had to. My college town of Pulaski has suffered much pain in recent years due to a horrible triple murder in 2009 still fresh in the minds of the locals. The case was a sure-bet for a death sentence on two eighteen year olds, but after the families of the victims declared they did not want to seek the death penalty, many in the Pulaski and Giles County community still believed the two boys deserved nothing more than a cruel death. I decided to obey God’s leading and to start planning an anti-death penalty week at Martin. 

I laid down to sleep, telling myself I would think about it more in the morning before class. Of course, the blur of ideas began and there I found myself rushing back and forth between my bed and the computer to jot down ideas before I lost them, one of which was to ask Jeannie Alexander to come speak. Jeannie, who has been an indispensable person to Amos House and the rest of society in general, is the chaplain at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, Tennessee’s main death row. I emailed Jeannie and was ecstatic when she agreed to come speak about the intersection of faith and the death penalty. 

In the following days, a friend and I went to a Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty event, where Stacy Rector, the executive director of TADP, and Charles Strobel of Room in the Inn were speakers on a panel. My friend leaned over to me and said “Wouldn’t it be cool if we got Stacy to come speak too?” I thought that was way too lofty of an idea for my small college. Stacy Rector is a big deal. She’s awesome. That might cost money. And even more so, I am shy. I dismissed the idea in my mind while trying to keep myself open to whatever God may have in mind. 

Little did I know what God did have in mind. The next day, Laura, my campus minister, informed me that Stacy Rector from TADP had contacted her asking if any students from Martin Methodist were interested in the abolition of the death penalty. I was floored- Laura then proceeded to connect me to Stacy, who was eager to help our Death Penalty Action Week in any way she could. I asked her if she could come speak alongside Jeannie, who little did I know happened to be a good friend of hers. I couldn’t believe where God was taking this.

In our emails, Stacy told me that she would try to find a relative of a murder victim to come speak too. I, for some reason, had interpreted this as a, “I’ll try but I’m not sure who I can find” sort of thing, so when she told me that Father Charles Strobel would be coming to Pulaski as well, my mind was blown. Jeannie, Stacy, and Charles? It seemed like a dream team against the death penalty! At my little college! 

I give all thanks to God in setting this up, as well as enormous thanks to Jeannie, Stacy, and Charles for being so willing and helpful to me and my Death Penalty Action Team at Martin Methodist College. We invite everyone to join us this Thursday, March 15th, from 8:30pm-10:00pm in Martin Methodist College’s Gault Fine Arts Center Recital Hall as we take a look at Faith and Facts of the Death Penalty in a panel discussion and Q&A. The address is 433 West Madison Street, Pulaski, TN 38478. 

Blessings, 

Autumn Dennis