Write Your Tennessee Legislator to Support the CARE Act

The Compassionate Assistance and Right to Exist (CARE) act before the Tennessee legislature this session  has a real chance to improve how those Rally by Richard Call (800x533 web)experiencing homelessness are treated and facilitate our ability to help people in need. But time is of the essence if we hope to make a difference.

The proposed Compassionate Assistance and Right to Exist act, or CARE act, aims to do 5 things: (1) protect the rights of faith groups and other organizations seeking to assist people experiencing poverty and homelessness; (2) protect everyone’s right to life and liberty, and prioritize the safety of everyone on our streets by focusing on people who commit crimes rather than those who are participating in acts of daily living like sitting, sleeping, or simply existing in public; (3) save taxpayers and the State of TN money by reducing needless jail and court costs; (4) remove obstacles to stability that un-housed people often endure such as the loss of property, IDs, and driver’s licenses, barriers to employment, and unpayable fines, court costs, and jail time; and (5) ensure that the State of TN addresses homelessness as an economic and social issue and not a criminal one.

The CARE Act (HB2430/SB2453), sponsored by Rep. Mike Stewart and Sen. Ophelia Ford, will be up before the House Civil Justice Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee next Wednesday, March 26th. If we can get as many as 500 letters to state senators and representatives, ideally contacting them directly as well, we believe this bill might very well become law. Not a large number, but it only happens if we sit down and do it. Please encourage others you work with to join us. Here is a link to find out who your senator or representative is: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/  . Mailed personal letters get the most attention, but email can be effective, especially if you know your representative personally. To be effective, your email or letter should be received by Tuesday, March 25th.

We can make a difference, but only if we try.

FAITH LEADERS AND HOMELESS ADVOCACY GROUP INVITE LEGISLATORS TO PENITENT REFLECTION AND ACTION ON ASH WEDNESDAY, CHALLENGE ALL TO GIVE UP HOUSING FOR LENT

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March 4, 2014, Nashville, TN—Faith leaders will join with homeless advocates from the Nashville Homeless Organizing Coalition (NHOC) to celebrate an Ash Wednesday service, March 5th, at 8:00 a.m. on the steps leading up to the War Memorial Plaza. They invite all to gather as a community to participate in a liturgy of mourning and repentance for those suffering under the weight of homelessness and poverty. They call all to penitent reflection and action to remedy unjust laws and policies that negatively and disproportionately affect the poor and homeless, and to urge support for the Compassionate Assistance and Right to Exist (CARE) Act now before the legislature (HB2430/SB2453). They will also challenge legislators and all people of conscience to give up their homes for a night during Lent to gain a better understanding of the hardships faced by people experiencing homelessness.* They ask, what would Jesus, or a person of conscience in your faith tradition, do for the homeless and dispossessed? Would he call for poverty to be treated with jails and fines, or with compassionate assistance?

Local advocates are heartened that, by introducing the CARE Act, the legislature is taking the first steps to ensure that the rights of faith groups and our most vulnerable neighbors are protected. If passed, it will save taxpayers money, empower law enforcement to focus on reducing crime rather than treating poverty as a criminal justice problem, and empower faith groups and others to work toward ending homelessness through providing needed assistance, services, and housing.

Tennessee has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation and lacks adequate housing and shelter space to accommodate all of the men, women, and children in need. Across the state, more than 16,000 school children are homeless, and 36% of the rural homeless are between 18 and 24. In Nashville alone, it is estimated that there are over 4,000 homeless adults and over 2,800 homeless school children, yet there are less than 1,700 shelter and transitional housing beds on any given night. Furthermore, during 2013, over 60 people who experienced homelessness died in Nashville. Preventing groups from helping the un-housed and criminalizing acts of daily living is not the answer. The CARE Act will help to ensure that Tennesseans will be free to continue to assist members of our community as they strive to overcome poverty, and that poverty and homelessness will be treated as a social service issue, rather than a criminal justice one.

*NHOC will host an “Urban Plunge” on Friday, March 21st for all those willing to participate. More details can be found at www.nashvillehomelessorganizing.com under “Projects.”

60 Minutes looks at Homelessness in Nashville

Open Table Nashville and How’s Nashville featured as CBS 60 Minutes examines the 100,000 Homes campaign. While it’s true that a “housing first” approach saves a lot of money,  it also is the most compassionate and just thing to do. If you watch this, remember 60 Minutes focuses here on the chronic homeless, but homelessness defies categorization. 2500 children are homeless in Nashville alone. Many homeless are veterans. Many women or teens fleeing abusive situations become homeless. 37% of the rural homeless are between 18 and 24. Others have lost their jobs and are overwhelmed by bills without family or friends to help. And while many of the chronic homeless do abuse alcohol, they often don’t start that way, but if they do, they often turn to it when mired in a seemingly hopeless situation. Housing first can help get people of all walks of life out of hopeless situations before things get worse and the costs, both human and financial, add up–if we support it.

Homeless Memorial this Saturday, December 14

1471338_715333518477907_2771058_nThe annual Homeless Memorial is Saturday, December 14th. There will be a breakfast at 7am at Room in the Inn, a silent march to Riverfront Park at 8:30 (and transportation for people who can’t walk), and the memorial at 9 at Riverfront Park (at the intersection of 1st and Broadway). Come to all or part of it and help us remember all those who have passed. (The picture below is from the 2012 Homeless Memorial service.)

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Help Reclaim the Right to Rest Thursday, December 12

Members of Nashville Homeless Organizing Coalition will be bringing their lawn chairs and signs asking local government “Where have all our benches gone?” to the stretch of Church street by the Downtown Public Library on Thursday, December 12th from 11am -1pm.  Homeless individuals, formerly homeless individuals, and advocates plan to motivate their community to demand their benches back from the Public Works Department of Davidson County.

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 Members of the Coalition successfully performed a similar action on World Homeless Day, October 10th, in which they sat in lawn chairs where public benches used to sit. Members handed out brochures educating residents of Nashville that work, live, and play in the downtown area of the disappearing benches. Since this action, the Coalition has launched a Communication Campaign to give residents the opportunity to have their voices heard by the Public Works Department of Davidson County.  This campaign includes writing letters, emails, and phoning Rory Rowan at the Public Works Department of Davidson County with concerns about the benches.

 The Coalition aims to restore every person’s right to rest. There is reason to believe that the 29 benches removed in a 3 block area near the Downtown Public Library have been removed to keep economically disadvantaged people from resting in these places. Additionally, it is evident that 13 benches are missing on Church Street from 5th to 7th Ave and 16 are missing on Capitol Blvd. from Church to Union.

Also, please  join our letter writing campaign and make our voices heard. Print and send in the example letter or create your own! (Personal letters are the most effective, but if you are busy, the main thing is that they hear from us–all you need to do is to copy the linked letter and replace the dummy personal info with your own, and print it out and send it.) The information to call Public Works is also in the letter. Thank you for your help and support to restore every person’s right to rest. And check back for more coming soon!

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Help Bring the Benches Back!

 

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WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Benches are vanishing from the downtown area! 29 benches have been removed by the Public Works Department in a 3 block area of downtown. 13 benches are missing on Church Street from 5th to 7th Ave and 16 are missing on Capitol Blvd. from Church to Union. We are mainly concerned that these benches were removed to keep economically disadvantaged individuals from resting in these places. EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO REST and we need your help to get the benches back! Please join our letter writing campaign and make our voices heard. Print and send in the example letter or create your own! (Personal letters are the most effective, but if you are busy, the main thing is that they hear from us–all you need to do is to copy the linked letter and replace the dummy personal info with your own, and print it out and send it.) The information to call Public Works is also in the letter. Thank you for your help and support to restore every person’s right to rest. And check back for more coming soon!

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Where have all the Benches Gone?

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For World Homeless Action Day, the Nashville Homeless Organizing Coalition went downtown in search of the park benches that used to provide places of rest for everyone.

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Everyone deserves a safe place to rest in the downtown area, but 29 benches have been removed from the 3-block area surrounding the Downtown Public Library.

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(13 benches are missing on Church Street from 5th to 7th Ave. and 16 are missing on Capitol Blvd from Church to Union.) This means that at least 58 people are no longer able to rest from their busy days.

Public Works is responsible for maintaining our sidewalks and benches. Please contact your council member or Rory Rowan who is over Sidewalk Inspection for Public Works at (615) 862-8782 or rory.rowan@nashville.gov. You can also call Public Works for general information at 862-8750. Raise your concerns. Ask them why so many benches have been removed. Ask them when they plan to replace the benches. Don’t settle for easy answers. Let’s make sure that everyone has a right to rest!

Memorial for Jimmy Fulmer, one of some 30 people who die on the street each year in Nashville

In the early morning hours of Thursday, January 3rd, Jimmy Fulmer silently froze to death on the steps of an East Nashville church. A flimsy blanket and a pair of crutches marked his grave. He was only 50 years old.

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(Photo courtesy of WSMV Nashville)

Tonight and the next night after that, others are at risk of slowly and silently freezing; of losing their fingers and toes, their dignity and their lives.   In Nashville, there are not enough shelter and transitional housing beds for everyone and the city’s Office of Emergency Management has failed to devise a cold weather emergency plan for those leftoutdoors. Getting into affordable housing is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, and while our brothers and sisters slowly waste away on waiting lists, there are over 24,000 vacant units of housing across Davidson County (2010 Census). Yes, over 24,000.

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That’s 6 vacant units for every one un-housed person(4,000 in Nashville). Instead of making some of these units available, some of which are actually owned by our government, our city allows people to die from exposure. Instead of coming up with funding for a housing trust fund, our city creates tax credits for a new convention center. We’re here to say enough. Enough prioritizing entertainment over human life. Enough focusing on charity projects when what the people need is justice. Enough with the bureaucratic entities that meet and talk and budget money for salaries, but don’t show results on the ground. Enough dying, enough apathy, enough pain.

Funeral procession by Autumn Dennis

The solution is not more shelter beds, coat drives, or even Project Homeless Connects which are helpful, but not enough.  The solution is doing what the Homelessness Commission is tasked with doing: to implement a plan, focused on creating more housing, to end homelessness in our community. We know the Commission’s power is limited, but we also know they’re capable of much more than the last 7 years have shown. We want to hold them accountable, but we also want to stand beside them to amplify their voice in the Mayor’s Office and Metro Council. We must ensure that no more people like Jimmy die because of bureaucratic inaction and public apathy. In the coming months and years, we want to see a city that views housing not as a luxury, but as a human right. We want to see a Homelessness Commission that actually implements a viable plan to create more affordable housing. We want to see more vacant homes, apartments, and buildings put to use to save lives. We want to see more churches, mosques, and temples fling open their doors and allow people to live on their property. Yes, live on their property. Jimmy’s death is a testament to our city’s failure. How many more people will die before we all make housing our top priority? How many more people will die before we raise our voices together and demand a better world? That better world starts with us today!

Click here for more on the WSMV coverage of Jimmy’s death.

Click here for the memorial and the action at the Metro Homelessness Commission.