News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE –Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, by the authority of Governor Bill Haslam, is reconstituting the Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, with the aim of not just reducing but eliminating homelessness among veterans, the chronically homeless, families, and children.
“When he was mayor of Knoxville, Bill Haslam realized the high cost and impact homelessness has on neighborhoods, communities, governments and entire cities and regions,” said Commissioner Varney. “He saw the need and addressed it. Governor Haslam realized it takes a coordinated effort to bring about change, both in policy and how we perceive individuals who struggle with homelessness.” Continue reading →
SHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee saw the number of homeless public school students increase by 74 percent between 2007 and 2010.
That number was well above the national average of 38 percent, but the true number may be even higher.
According to a report from the state Comptroller’s office, several neighboring states have a larger percentage of homeless students. That could be a clue that Tennessee’s numbers are an undercount.
Also, some districts in Tennessee with high foreclosure and jobless rates did not identify any homeless students.
The comptroller’s report says the dramatic increases in Tennessee — from 6,565 in 2007 to 11,458 in 2010 — may be a consequence of job losses and the economy. They may also be the result of some school districts’ improved efforts to identify homeless students.
Green Street Church of Christ has been on a mission to help Nashville’s homeless for years, but now the church says that mission is under fire, reports The Tennessean. In late June, the Metro Nashville Codes Department cited the church for having tents on the property where the homeless sleep, saying the property’s zoning does not allow camping.
The church vows to challenge the citation in court.
“It is the position of the church that they’re protected under federal statute and under the Constitution of the United States,” said William “Tripp” Hunt, the attorney representing the church.
Church leaders say they are following a biblical directive, in the 25th chapter of the book of Mark, to help house the poor.
“In that chapter, it says that if you help the poor you are helping Jesus himself,” Hunt said. “Under that basis alone they feel that it is their obligation to help the poor.
“Where it stands now, the city’s prosecuting them for having the homeless encampment there.”
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis police officers on Friday dismantled the Occupy Memphis encampment from a downtown plaza that served as the movement’s home for 10 months.
Officers moved in around 4 a.m. Friday to take down Occupy Memphis’ tents at the Civic Center Plaza, which sits directly across City Hall and is near several other government buildings. No arrests were reported.
The encampment was set up last October as part of the national Occupy movement, which railed against income inequality and referred to itself as representing the “99 percent” of Americans who don’t have the money or the power to influence political decisions about the economy.
Memphis officials had allowed Occupy Memphis to keep its camp active as long as members did not break any laws. Unlike in other cities, Occupy Memphis never had a violent clash with police.
However, the movement, which claimed about 100 members at one time, had dwindled to a few die-hards. At its peak, members were using portable batteries to generate electricity to cook food and run lights. They also received donations of food and sundries from Memphis residents.
Memphis city officials said Friday that the plaza had essentially become a homeless camp. Of the nine people at the camp when it was cleared, eight were homeless, city spokeswoman Mary Cashiola said.
Cashiola said there had recently been altercations and assaults at the camp. Also, members were bathing in public and were relieving themselves on the mall adjacent to the plaza.
The city has provided those at the camp with a secure location to house their belongings for a short time and referred them to the Community Alliance for the Homeless for services.
A statement from the city noted that Occupy Memphis was able to raise awareness to its cause.
“The City of Memphis commends them on their commitment to their cause and their perseverance, especially in light of this summer’s extreme temperatures,” the statement said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Several people, including college students, are breaking camp in front of the state Capitol after spending the night there in defiance of a new state law.
WSMV-TV (http://bit.ly/HNDWOj_ reported about 30 people brought sleeping bags to Legislative Plaza and spent the night, saying the new statute criminalizes homelessness.
Protester Jeremiah Carter said the law perpetuates a system in which homeless people are constantly going through the judicial system.
A sign posted at the protest read “sleeping is not a crime.”
Despite the statute, police made no arrests.
By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The House will take up a bill on Monday that is designed to evict Occupy Nashville but could also be used to jail homeless people around the state.
The “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012” makes it a crime to camp on any state-owned land that is not specifically designated for camping — not just the War Memorial Plaza near the Capitol where Occupy Nashville protesters have set up tents.
And the definition of camping is very broad. It includes “storing personal belongings, making any fire, doing any digging or earth breaking or carrying on cooking activities.”
Those violating the proposed law could have their belongings seized and be charged with a Class A misdemeanor — the most serious type of misdemeanor, punishable by nearly a year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500 or both.
“This will adversely affect the homeless, because it is too broad,” said Bob Tuke, an advocate for homeless veterans with the charity Operation Stand Down Nashville and a former chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
“Any veteran who happens to be on state-owned property and is arrested because of this, I can’t tell you how deeply that idea offends me as a veteran,” he said.
Occupy Nashville has become part protest, part tent city as homeless people have discovered they can live among the protesters with no fear of trespassing arrests, according to The Tennessean. The 10 tents on the south side of War Memorial Plaza belong to homeless people with little interest in criticizing corporate greed. But the other 50 tents on the plaza belong to a mix of protesters and the homeless people who discovered them — and were willing to sign a code of conduct agreeing to support the movement’s goals and avoid drugs, alcohol and stealing in exchange for living around the north side’s fountain.
They’re living together more or less peacefully, borrowing tips from Nashville’s Tent City, a 120-person homeless encampment under an interstate bridge before it was washed away in the May 2010 flood.
Before he happened upon Occupy Nashville, Nathan Rice, 32, was camping out wherever he could find a quiet spot. But for the past week, he’s lived in a borrowed tent among the Occupiers, a shopping cart sporting an American flag and a sign that reads “Please deposit all aluminum cans in here” parked outside.
It’s better than camping on your own, he said.
…Occupiers say that, as long as homeless folks support their goals and will abide by the rules, they’re welcome. After all, they’re part of the 99 percent, too.
Homeless Man Gets the Runaround?From Chas Sisk:
Al Star, a Nashville homeless man, says he got the runaround from the Department of Safety when he attempted a few days before Thanksgiving to apply for a free state identification to vote, eventually having to call an aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper before receiving the ID. Star, 59, says a clerk at the Department of Safety’s office in the Snodgrass building near the Capitol initially refused to issue him a free ID to replace his lost driver’s license, saying instead that he would have to pay $12 for a replacement. Star says he told the clerk that he no longer needed a driver’s license because he doesn’t own a car and had stated clearly on his application that he only wanted an ID to vote. Hamilton Commissioners Seek Repeal
Two Hamilton County commissioners pleaded with other members of their body Thursday to ask the state Legislature to repeal the voter ID law it passed earlier this year, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Though commissioners will not vote on the resolution until Wednesday, they discussed the matter in an agenda session Thursday. Commissioners Greg Beck and Warren Mackey asked the others to help repeal the law.
The federal government is spending billions of dollars fighting wars in places such as Iraq to give citizens of those countries the right to vote, Beck said. Yet soldiers from Tennessee returning home might see their own grandparents turned away at the polls because they don’t have the proper ID, he said.
“Do you know that it’s easier for old people to vote over [in Iraq] than it is here?” he asked. “It used to be that easy for us to vote.” More Fame for Dorothy Cooper
Dorothy Cooper, the 96-year-old Chattanooga resident denied her photo ID for voting in October, is becoming the national emblem in the Democratic fight against state voter identification laws, according to the Chattanooga TFP. The Democratic National Committee rolled out www.protectingthevote.org Thursday and released a report on laws affecting voting rights across the states. The site attacks new voter ID laws across the country and features Cooper, who was turned away in October from a local Tennessee Department of Safety Driver Services Center.
Republicans say the bill has tremendous support across the state and is needed to ensure confidence in elections.
“I never knew it’d cause this much fuss,” Cooper said when reached by phone Thursday. “When I started I thought I was going to get my card and that would be it.”
…Will Crossley, the Democratic National Committee counsel and director of voter protection, said the Democratic National Committee chose to highlight Cooper to show how the laws are “unnecessary and essentially arbitrary,” and that “someone who has been voting for 70-something years would suddenly have her identity questioned.”
Middle Tennessee street newspaper The Contributor sued the city of Brentwood on Wednesday, claiming that an effort to clear newspaper vendors off its streets deprives them of free speech, according to The Tennessean. The Contributor, staffed mainly by the homeless and formerly homeless, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in U.S. District Court in Nashville over Brentwood citing and fining eight of the newspaper’s street vendors.
In January, Calvin Hart, Andrew Harrington and several other vendors were cited after distributing the paper in Brentwood, which has caused other vendors of the newspaper to stay away from selling in the wealthy, suburban city, the suit states. Hart and Harrington also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit may be the first of its kind in the country concerning a street newspaper, and First Amendment scholars said the newspaper has a free speech case.