From the results of the point in time census to an update on the development of permanent supportive housing units, there was a lot to talk about Wednesday morning at the monthly meeting of the Continuing Homelessness Care Planning Board. But a more pressing topic for the agency, made up of service providers and other stakeholders in Nashville’s homeless community, may have been how local agencies and departments would respond to a state bill that increases the penalty for camping on public property.
The bill passed through the Tennessee legislature in June — and gained national attention when Frank Nessley (R-Strawberry Plains) referred to Hitler’s rumored period of homelessness, when he voiced support for the legislation — and would extend a law that makes camping on state property a felony. for other forms of public property. It will also make camping near or under a state highway a misdemeanor. (The fee will be preceded by warnings from law enforcement.)
After some discussion, a task force was set up to explore the response at the local level to the law when it goes into effect on July 1. Members agreed that the Metro’s Homeless Impact Division would need to contact city and state agencies, including law enforcement. Eventually, a task force was formed headed by Vicki Butcher – writer and saleswoman for the local street newspaper contributor — and Jay Servier, interim director of the Homeless Impact Division.
Attorney General Glenn Funk has not issued a statement on whether he will enforce the law, and Governor Bill Lee has not signed off on the law—though it will remain in effect.
The group also discussed a workshop on camps attended by MHID staff, HPC members, and others in the service community. Some of the potential camp-related strategies include prioritizing people known as the Coordinated City Entry system and residing in a camp facing closure. This idea has received some pushback, including concerns that it might encourage people to move to camps that will be closed in the hope that they will receive faster service. The concerns echoed some of the complaints surrounding the controversial MHID program at the now-closed Jefferson Street Bridge camp, a focused housing effort that has inspired complaints about appropriate action from HPC members.
Adding to the sense of urgency was the announcement of the camps’ closures by the Tennessee Department of Transportation and CSX Railroad Transportation. April Calvin, the assistant director of MHID, said she learned of the closures on Monday and had reached out to the dead bodies concerned, hoping to clarify that MHID should be contacted before the closure to help find housing and resources for people living in the camps. .
TDOT spokeswoman Beth Emmons tells The Scene Emailed that there have been no closings in recent weeks. Emmons says there was a clean-up near Nolensville and Harding Place, but “it wasn’t a homeless camp but a party place where people do drugs, drink alcohol, etc.”
India Bongarcher, camp outreach worker at Open Table Nashville, retracts TDOT’s description of the place. It says that while some people congregate at the cleared site, people are also camping there and at other locations nearby.
The other location was near the CSX Trails, near Restaurant Depot on Oldham Street. Claire Heneghan, another outreach worker at Open Table, tells The Scene that the road to the camp area had been closed due to debris accumulating by construction vehicles, although some people remained at the nearby sites. Friday afternoon, a Scene He visited the site and saw the pile of debris described by Heneghan. Tents were not erected at that time. Heneghan says the people who would normally have stayed under the bridge were moved with the help of Open Table.
When accessed for comment, CSX made the following statement:
At CSX, safety is our top priority. Railroad ownership is private and risky in nature. Being on railway property without permission is a criminal encroachment, which is not only illegal, but can also lead to serious consequences. In an ongoing effort to maintain a safe operating environment for our employees, CSX Police began issuing trespass warnings beginning in December of last year to individuals who were camped out on CSX property near an active railroad and the Cumberland River Drawbridge. Advocacy groups visited the site to provide resources and individuals were given numerous opportunities to move to safer living conditions before the area was cleared last week.
In other news from HPC, the results of the just-in-time count — the annual census of people experiencing homelessness — were shared showing a slight decrease in the number of Nashville residents experiencing homelessness. In 2022, 1,916 people experienced homelessness, down from 2016 in 2020. No stats were recorded in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the launch of the long-awaited project of 90 permanent support housing units appears to be on track for this month. The date of the groundbreaking and the corresponding ceremony has not yet been finalized but is likely to be at the end of May. The permanent support housing development was originally scheduled to open in 2021.