Tent City dwellers return despite plans to evict

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 1:00am

More than a year after plans were put in motion to evict residents of the downtown homeless encampment on the Cumberland River called Tent City, crime for the surrounding areas is actually increasing.

Responding to concerns of downtown residents, Central Precinct Commander Damian Huggins circulated an e-mail to city leaders showing crime rising around Tent City. According to Huggins, crime in the areas around Tent City is up 21 percent over the last year, even though it has declined by 18 percent across the Central Precinct.

What’s more, Huggins said police presence is up 128 percent around Tent City.

“I submit to you that the unlimited occupancy policy and current efforts in Tent city be re-evaluated and reconsidered at the earliest,” Huggins’ email said.

Huggins called attention to a series of sensation incidents involving homeless individuals in and around Tent City. One particularly incendiary incident involved two men attacking each other with a hammer on the Tent City property, according to Huggins.

In general, Huggins said the individuals being arrested by police are chronic offenders, with some having upwards of 200 pubic intoxication arrests.

The increase in criminal incidents has coincided with the Metro Homelessness Commission working diligently to provide direct services to Tent City residents. In the last year, the 25 of the regular 32 residents were found housing by the Homelessness Commission.

The commission’s chairman, Erik Cole, said homeless individuals re-occupied Tent City during the summer months when the weather was warm. Cole said those living in Tent City required direct social work services at a rate higher than the commission could provide them.

“In order for it to improve, long-term, we must support the good work that our police officers are doing by bringing active social work to the situation — meaningful case management, treatment options, and, eventually, housing,” said Cole, who is the District 7 Metro Councilman. “Everyone agrees that a revolving door of arrests, dismissed sentences and return to the streets is ineffective.”

Huggins correspondence was driven in part by an increased number of complaints from area residents, who detailed in letters to Metro leaders the problems they’ve encountered with homeless individuals around Tent City.

Huggins proposed identifying the “permanent” residents of Tent City and gradually finding them transitional housing, while barring other individuals from taking up occupancy at the encampment.

Cole said he was concerned at the continued criminal incidents at the site, but said solutions are complicated. He cautioned against closing Tent City all at once, arguing that another such encampment could easily pop up at another downtown location.

“Over the past year, the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission has been actively working to address the impact of homelessness downtown, and county-wide. But real solutions take time. And they take money,” Cole said. “We recognize that downtown residents face challenges daily and that the situation downtown needs to improve.”


9 Comments on this post:

By: pandabear on 9/30/09 at 6:46

Maybe the original residents of Tent city were a stabilizing influence
on the area. Maybe you could hire them as consultants on how to
deal with the "newbie" residents, which I'm sure are well known to them.

By: Jeremiah_29-7 on 9/30/09 at 9:25

Interesting idea, Pandabear. I wonder also if those who remain and who are harder to resettle may take LOTS more help. I know a guy that used to work in the jail, and he said that many MANY homeless folks would come through the jail, get stabilized on their medication, go out from the jail, and be back in about two weeks since there was no consistent mental health service available.

By: TharonChandler on 9/30/09 at 12:54

Nashville is one of the roughest places in the world and would be the worst place for me to be homeless.

The 'historical' red-neck roughness is not what i'm saying when i mention it now. Nashville has 'imported' the rougher sort from all over the region and the world; with only selfish and unenlighted attempts to ease the crowding in poor places. Though I did meet one of the best young 'preachers' I had ever heard, a few years ago at the central mission (the one with the heart-sign visible from downtown) and though those people there are rough, the 'warehouse style' and bad food and inconsistent service sent me packing.

Also I have many good old memories of freinds and parties in Nashville (and a few recent visions from Ken's Gold Club), that simply makes that place the worst of all for me to remain unemployed, homeless, and non-mobile. Peace.

By: alex24 on 9/30/09 at 1:02

Pam Murray supposedly is a Social Worker. Maybe after she is kicked out of her District 5 Council seat she can get a job at the Tent City. She would fit right in.

By: Hollowhead on 10/1/09 at 7:32

Nashville, for the 20yrs I've been here, has been one of the most supportative of the homeless, I know of communities in the region who give homeless & undesirables a oneway ticket here because it's so easy to be on the streets here. The mission provides food, shelter when needed, & some social services. Nashville as a whole makes it easier to be homeless here then anywhere in the south, with continous drives for food, clothing & support for them. Why would they want to leave or improve their situations when WE make it so easy for them to just cruise through life on our dime.
I think Metro should convert the areas the homeless set up camp, into metro parking for Metro equipment or some kind of gated-fenced storage area, where not much damage could be done if broke into & would have enough regular traffic to keep unwanted campers out. Like the salt sheds.
Everyone knows that most of the problems on the streets of downtown come from these individuals. I've been dealing with an arsonist, I'm told, was responsible for most of the empty warehouse & dumpster fires for the past six years downtown while living on our crowded streets. Put them in jail or a mental institution if they can't take a helping hand & get themselves back into society. Alot of them just don't want to conform or can't , by their very nature. We just make it to easy for them to be here.
That's the way I see it as a downtown resident & worker.

By: sidneyames on 10/1/09 at 7:53

The federal gov-ment is the entity that took away the mentally ill from institutions. I vaguely remember it was something about their rights and money. If they are in safe places that administer their meds, they are less likely to offend. BUT the gov-ment doesn't see it that way.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 10/1/09 at 10:02

you can thank Reagan for that one, sid. the problem is that a lot of those places were not safe. remember cloverbottom? there is no easy solution, unfortunately.

By: BigPapa on 10/1/09 at 12:03

I thought the ACLU is the entity that made sure these people had the "right" to live like stray dogs? i could be wrong, but regardless of who did it, we need to go back to the way it was, where we picked up the looneys and put them in insane asylums. it's for their own good.

how about seeing if we could use the libs eco agenda against the homeless. surely their little tent city is an evironmental disaster with all the garbabe, waste, etc being dumped right there.

By: frank brown on 10/1/09 at 7:21

Where is a good place to put these vile creatures?