Since last summer, members of Amos House have come to know and love the colorful, endearing residents of Tent City, a local homeless encampment here in Nashville. When the city planned to close the camp on November 1st of last year, we organized a letter writing campaign and non-violent demonstration to pressure city officials and draw attention to the injustice of bull-dozing the makeshift homes of our brothers and sisters. With the combined efforts of college students, advocates, local church goers, and other concerned citizens, a public outcry was launched and to our surprise, Mayor Karl Dean was sympathetic to our concerns and granted the doomed camp a reprieve. He charged the Homelessness Commission with deciding what to do about the camp and, in turn, the Commission charged local outreach workers with the task of moving Tent City’s residents out of the camp and into housing. The lack of low-income housing in Nashville and the overwhelming barriers that people living on the streets face made this task challenging, to say the least.
Such barriers to housing include having a pet or pets, having a felony or other charges, substance abuse, the lack of documentation (social security card, ID, birth certificate, etc.), income, medication, transportation, technology, etc. Also, for chronically homeless individuals, the transition into housing and a structured environment can be ridden with anxiety and difficulty.
Over the last six months, however, we have walked with about a dozen of our brothers and sisters from Tent City into housing. We are hoping to help over a dozen more residents move into housing over the next couple of weeks. Here at Amos House, we believe that housing is a human right, because without housing, people are forced to live a subhuman existence.
City officials have set at least three different closing dates for Tent City that have been pushed back (late September, November 1st, and most recently, June 1st) but continue to insist that Tent City will have to close eventually because of its location. Never mind that the camp has existed in its current spot for over 20 years, never mind that the waiting list for Section 8 Housing in Nashville is currently between two and three years long, never mind that it offers a centralized location outside of the main downtown area for people to live and have consistent contact with outreach workers and other resources: the camp is in the projected path of the proposed riverfront redevelopment, half a mile from a burgeoning luxury condominium (Rolling Mill Hills), and sitting on state and private property.
So the Commission recommended that the camp be closed June 1st, but the week before, they rescinded, saying that they would work with outreach workers, service providers, and other advocates to come up with a feasible relocation plan for the remaining 40+ residents without housing prospects. They are hoping to move the residents out and close the camp in the next 2-3 months.
The “Tent City saga” has been extremely interesting to watch and participate in, and while it has been frustrating and unnerving, certain aspects of it have also been redeeming. We have seen the “powers that be” pressured and persuaded by a concerned, justice seeking community. We have seen the power of the media at its best and worst. We have seen our homeless friends discover the stability and dignity they had once lost. And we have seen that while our city is capable of compassion for its most vulnerable citizens, it often opts for the “out of sight, out of mind” approach. Our good friend Steve Samra said on his blog that this saga “should be an indictment of the housing situation here.” While we build luxury condos, gentrify downtown, and propose the building of a new convention center, our brothers and sisters die on our streets for want of shelter. Yes, this is an indictment to our city and also to us as professed followers of Christ. Let us all continue to work to be a people that embodies the justice, peace, mercy, and compassion of the Kingdom of God here on earth and a people that calls our society to do the same.
If you are interested in ways to get involved in the lives of the residents at Tent City and other individuals who live on our streets, please e-mail us.
To read about the history of the camp and receive news updates, visit the Tent City News Facebook page. To see last night’s News Channel 5 story on the camp, click here.