What happened to the residents of Tent City?

Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 11:45pm

It had been almost three weeks since the flood of 2010 wrecked Tent City when Sherril Carr and her partner, Luis Alberto, went home to claim their bicycles.

Trudging up the small incline toward the access street that leads to the condemned colony, Carr and Alberto were walking mountain bikes caked in dried mud along the gravel road.

“We’re lucky they were still there,” Carr said, squinting in the bright sunlight of a recent Wednesday morning. The couple lost their tent, clothing, cooking supplies, blankets, phones and radio. Alberto, who is of Cuban descent, lost his identification and birth certificate — he showed a passport when asked how to spell his name. The two, who spent the last six months at Tent City, planned to use the day to seek assistance, first from the Red Cross and then to try to claim food stamps.

Carr and Alberto have been living on the street since the roiling Cumberland River jumped its banks and claimed everything around it in a wash of record rainfall. Some 140 people have been displaced from Tent City, left as a toxic wasteland when the waters receded. In the immediate aftermath of the flood, many of them moved to a Red Cross shelter at Lipscomb University.

But that shelter closed on Tuesday, as did the city’s remaining Red Cross shelters. With Tent City off limits by police order, no one is sure what might become of its inhabitants, most of whom lived there — homeless, as it were, but also part of a distinctive and tight-knit community — not so much by necessity but choice.

Will there be another?

Under the Hermitage Avenue Bridge, where one Tent City encampment used to be, there remains only the detritus of the squatter: torn-up tents, a grill or two, pots and frying pans, pieces of luggage, clothes and hats, a lonely boot, and a Bible opened to Isaiah — the chapter, in fact, where the prophet speaks of a cultivated vineyard producing only wild grapes, which seemed fitting. Everything is caked in dirt.

Near the river, a backyard-style shotgun shed was flipped on its roof, window broken and door hanging slack-jawed. A tarp slung into a tree branch that juts over the Cumberland lilted in a morning breeze.

Tent City was no Shangri-La. To some, it was a filthy, rat-infested receptacle for the city’s leatherneck street warriors. To others, it was an alley version of Survivor — perhaps even sharing in the infantile gamesmanship. To its residents, it was a home disconnected from any grid.

When Doug Sanders and a team of volunteers arrived there on the Sunday of the flood, Tent City was awash in a nasty mix of floodwater, diesel fuel and potentially toxic sludge.

Sanders and the others caravanned residents to temporary shelters; most arrived at the Red Cross’ Lipscomb University shelter, where they would remain until it closed last Tuesday.

There, residents met with members of the Metro Homelessness Commission, which over the course of 10 days managed to connect all but a handful of Tent City’s tenants with other housing options, most of them temporary. According to Metro Councilman Erik Cole, who chairs the commission, a mix of volunteer and church groups — including Sanders’ Otter Creek Church of Christ and Jeannie Alexander’s Amos House, a Catholic outreach group — abetted the ongoing flood-relief efforts.

Displaced Tent Citians were also provided housing vouchers through the Metro Development and Housing Agency: 12 left with Section 8-like rentals, and well above that applied; even more went to hotel rooms — donated by the Gujarat Cultural Association — where they’ll have a free week; some went to generous churches; and a few trekked to the Nashville Rescue Mission and the Campus for Human Development.

“Out of all the people we served on Monday, only two individuals wanted to go back into a tent situation,” Clifton Harris, director of The Key Alliance, the fundraising arm of the homelessness commission, said.

Sanders said by the end of the ordeal, most Tent City denizens were exhausted. While the outreach efforts were tremendous, he said, a lot of the people who lived in the riverside camp are upset and uneasy.

“For them it’s also a feeling of real fear and vulnerability, because they are totally at risk now of, ‘Who’s going to find them a place,’ ” he said. “They have no place to go, and they have no place to go back to.”

Some, like Carr and Alberto, simply wound up on the street. Though Tent City was scheduled to be closed in August because of repair work on the bridge above it, there’s no way to know whether its citizens would’ve snapped into more traditional housing and homelessness programs — like they’re being shepherded into now — or tried to live the same off-the-grid lifestyle to which they’d become accustomed.

Sanders, Alexander and others are looking now for a 2-acre swath to temporarily rebuild Tent City. While Cole said the commission would work with them to that end, he was clear that the commission would prefer the 140 or so go the traditional route.

“[But] none of us are naive enough to think there’s not going to be another Tent City somewhere in the future,” he said.

21 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 5/24/10 at 12:42

I wonder if they will still wander around downtown destroying the desire for people to buy the overpriced condos there.

By: arkay61 on 5/24/10 at 5:45

Yep goose, they are. When not walking around hassling tourists and running parking lot scams, they are lounging in the library on Church St. or cruising around on the "free" buses we are providing them. Others are more enterprising and use their MTA bus passes to travel to more lucrative parts of the city to panhandle. You can now find them on Interstate ramps and major intersections from Hendersonville to Brentwood. But at the end of the day they still return downtown because the cheapest liquor stores are on Jefferson and Main streets. I have also noticed the growing numbers of young, smelly vagabonds (train riders) walking the streets downtown. Pickings apparently are pretty good here in Nashville. But of course they may be merely early arriving Bonnaroonies.

Until folks decide to take a stand and separate the temporarily displaced from the professional cons and bums, it will never change.

By: richardbolin on 5/24/10 at 6:59

I agree to "separate the temporarily displaced from the professional cons and bums"is a good first step but how?
I was thinking of a top 10 pro panhandlers poster to post next to the please dont give signs.we could maybe add a phone number that anyone who reads the sign could then give to the beggers rather than a beer buck?
um-after temporarily being homeless for over a year now (maybe you know or have seen me around)i have fisrt hand knowlage of what the deal is downtown and wanting to do the video for tips thing and counting on a happy crowds that are having fun and not running a gaulet of panhandlers is as important to me as getting to a national not nashville soulution to the homeless issue.
the power of the video camera and the net can help,
We need a club and a united voice for those who work downtown and are negatively affected by the homeless.
what do you think -after every shift we the work force spend a half hour walking together and working together to help clean up lowerbroad.

By: Carol Williams on 5/24/10 at 7:58

Why would the city of Nashville allow another third world living condition? Codes and Health standards apply to all of us for our safety. I think we can do better than creating substandard living conditons for anyone.

By: BigPapa on 5/24/10 at 8:02

This is a big chance for Dean and others to come down HARD on these folks. Couch it as "doing what's best for these poor people" if you want. But I would tell the police & codes people to make this THE most un-friendly city to these bums in the USA. Any of these inabiling agencies would find my city a tough place to do business.
That shelter would be in my cross hairs too. No way I'm builidng a billion dollar convention center only to have that pile of feces there to attract the flies.

By: willtw on 5/24/10 at 8:10

Take the truly unfortunate, those who are mentally, physically or addicted and help them outside any tent city...The rest, the professionals, the hustlers, the criminals, RUN THEM OUT OF TOWN! No more fish....here's a fishing pole!

By: vechester on 5/24/10 at 8:28

I actually remember a story on one of the local news channels about the need for someone do donate land for a new tent city. I laughed out loud when I heard this. Can you imagine someone donating the property do house these people, and yes most are professional cons and some have criminal records.

DO NOT give these people money. Temporary shelter and food, yes. Money NO!

By: airvols on 5/24/10 at 8:31

Time for this to be destroyed for good. Recently looked at a condo downtown and decided not live there because of all the homeless people wondering around the place. Many of these people are simply unwilling to change and find work, many are mental cases that should be cared for in a medical facility. In any case wondering downtown begging for money and buying cheap beer and wine is not the image we need project as a great city. Move them on, arrest the ones that are criminals and lock them up, get them medical help, but get them off the street and stop building tent cities to encourage this behavior.

By: willtw on 5/24/10 at 8:33

Five years ago, through local area agencies, churches and several business people, numerous "tent city" people were ask to come into a central location, to be interviewed and to be placed into jobs according to their abilities, their experience and their education....NINE showed up! Of those, all were offered jobs in or around BNA...Today, five years later, only one remains, and remains unemployed...why? Drunk, addicted, work too difficult, "why should I work when the substance of life will be provided for me...." Experience has proven that most in tent city are cons, cons as in "frauds". Playing the hustle is an ongoing game with many of these people. Nashville is a generous, friendly, giving town...Help where we can BUT for the rest, here's a bus ticket to the garden on the east lawn in Washington DC

By: stlgtr55@yahoo.com on 5/24/10 at 8:37

The best thing we can do for the homeless, is to do our damndest not to become one of them.

By: bluesman3145hotmail on 5/24/10 at 8:51

The big question I have is - What entity is responsible for keeping people from camping on metro/county/state property? Is it parks? Is it a state entity? Is it the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RIVER BANKS?

If I attempted to set up a tarp and sleeping bag today on the riverfront in downtown Nashville I suspect an officer would be along shortly telling me to "move along". That being the case, why won't the police do the same for those camping along the river down the greenway under the I-65 bridge and elsewhere?

Don't get me wrong, if folks want to live this sort of lifestyle that is fine with me. They just need to do it outside of the city on property where they have the permission of the land owner.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 5/24/10 at 9:33

vechester, i saw that same news report and wondered the same thing!

By: dargent7 on 5/24/10 at 10:05

What a bunch of hypocrites! Go to church every Sunday, and for what?
Pray to Jesus for forgiveness, mercy, solace, comfort...none of which you afford these people.
Just cast them all aside: label them drunks, criminals, vagrants, panhandlers.
Out of site is a-ok with you.
They've hit rock bottom, and even that has been taken away by the flood.
I really cannot understand how you people, southern 'Christians", can look at yourselves in the mirror.

By: pnance on 5/24/10 at 10:52

To: dargent7 -- I agree with your assessment of hypocracy, but I feel certain the folks to whom you are speaking are not southern Christians.

Doug Sanders and his group? Those who help with Room in the Inn? Those are far more suitable representatives of southern Christians.

By: richgoose on 5/24/10 at 11:47

DARGENT7.......Don't count me as a hypocrite. I have never liked worthless bums for as long as I have been able to make decisions based on what I see,hear and experience.

There are just too many underclass human beings homeless and otherwise to be concerned about anything other than how not to become one of them. Certainly the last thing I would consider is subsidizing their existence,

By: dargent7 on 5/24/10 at 12:23

Sure. First, you "Conservative Christians" went ballistic over ObamaCare.
Now, these homeless people are "worthless bums".
You really want to know what's worthless? Your faux faith and religion and prayer.
Stay home on Sundays and wax your guns anxiously awaiting for the "Guns-in-Bars" legislation to take hold. Then you can really exercise your Christian principles.

By: airvols on 5/24/10 at 12:50

DARGENT7 your preaching to wrong group,you should be down on the river preaching to them about changing their lives. Why bring religion into this at all?

By: dargent7 on 5/24/10 at 3:07

airV: Because these"worthless bums" are human beings. What are you praying for in Church on Sundays, anyway? Just stuff to line your own pockets? I. me, mine?
Jesus looks down on your sanctimony favorably? Different Jesus that we learned about up North. Like I said, more churches around here than gas stations, and everyone turns a blind eye to the homeless. "It's their problem". No, pal, it's OUR problem.

By: budlight on 5/24/10 at 5:07

HOpefully they are rolling up their shirt sleeves, pitching in, volunteering and helping to clean up the mess. Maybe a job and a home would come out of some hard work on the volunteer front,

By: slzy on 5/24/10 at 5:51

where is the bridge on hermitage ave?

By: localboy on 5/27/10 at 1:41

"What happened to the residents of Tent City?"
If we didn't care before, what makes anyone think this has changed?