Saturday, August 30, 2008

Second Harvest Food Bank

Emergency Food Box Program

Second Harvest manages an Emergency Food Box program to feed hungry individuals and families on an urgent-need basis. Second Harvest distributes emergency food items at 15 locations throughout Davidson County. The sites are conveniently located for easy accessibility—either within walking distance or access by public transportation—in low-income populated areas. Families are directed to the appropriate location based on their zip code. An emergency food box provides two to three- days' worth of staple food items, based on the number of members in each household. The boxes contain non-perishable items such as canned vegetables, canned fruits, canned meat, macaroni & cheese, rice, beans, peanut butter, cereal and crackers.

Food for the Emergency Food Box program is provided through many sources including individual, corporate and organizational food drives, collection barrels at Davidson County Kroger and Food Lion grocery stores, and community-wide food drives such as the Tennessee Titans Food Drive, the Nashville Predators Food Drive, and the Letter Carriers' Food Drive.

How can I get help?

1. Call Second Harvest at 615-329-3491 to find the food pantry closest to you.


Send an e-mail to find the food pantry closest to you.

2. Bring Social Security cards for each member of your household and something with your address on it (piece of mail, bill, lease, etc.)
Note: Persons who do not have a social security number can still receive a food box.

How can I give help?

Visit our “Get Involved” pages to see the many ways in which you can support the Emergency Food Box program and help feed your Nashville neighbors.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What A Dilemma

Just how many feminists will now be torn between standing true to their ideals, and scoring one for the gender. Will be interesting to see what happens.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How Much Worse Will Things Get?

Today I walked the 1/4 mile down to the Bethlehem Center where they have a Second Harvest Food Bank distribution center. And upon arrival I found the door closed. And so did a couple others who arrived about the same time. One person went inside to the Bethlehem center offices where he was told that they had given away all their food and that they had closed down their food pantry permanently. This is a real set back for the whole neighborhood, which is made up mostly of people living in poverty.

I don't know where the next closest location is.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Funny How Things Go

So, I learned something tonight. Remember a while back when the Nashville City Council passed an ordinance tightly restricting panhandling? Well, even though it passed council, it did not pass city lawyers on grounds of constitutionality. So, the ordinance never became law. Well, folks, I don't recall that very important point making the newspapers, or any press media. BTW it was a council member who told me this.

One would think that during the long process of creating and passing a city ordinance, issues of constitutionality would be dealt with - first.

This makes me believe that this whole rigmarole was just a ruse by the city council and other city officials in an attempt to appease the whiners and complainers about homeless people in the city.

Still, for all that has been done in recent years to drive homeless people out of downtown Nashville, the homeless are still there, just as numerous as before, still panhandling like before.

Of course I said from the beginning that these efforts would not create the desired results. That the only thing this harassment of the homeless would do, would be to make the state of homelessness worse, and even more difficult to overcome than before. But, don't listen to me, don't listen to experts in the industry.

You successful business people, full of ego and self love, full of spite and prejudice for others - because you have succeeded in business, you con yourselves into thinking you can do no wrong - that all your ideas are good ideas.

And just as has happened throughout all of history, just as surely as the sun will rise again in the morning, the over-confident, selfish person, without real humility for the power he has to change society, even believing him/herself to be god like, will drive society into ruin, socially, economically, and any other way you can think of.

The Republicans of this country represent the interests of the powerful business owners. And the Republicans have been in charge of this country for the past 8 years. And this country is heading into the toilet.

I doubt it, but hopefully people will remember the state our country is currently in, the next time they consider putting another Republican in the White House.

No doubt, with Obama in the White House, our economy will being to recover, peace will be the norm, homelessness will diminish.

Fear Factor Ramblings

So, it was brought up recently, how fear of homeless people is one of the great obstacles homeless people face in overcoming homelessness.

And that is very much true.

But is the fear we have of homeless people warranted? And really, is the level of fear we experience in contemporary life warranted?

Sure a certain amount of fear is necessary. It keeps us from doing certain potentially harmful things to ourselves. Fear usually prevents us from jumping off of high cliffs, or from setting ourselves on fire, or from standing in front of someone with a loaded pistol, etc.

That fear is all pretty much rational and obviously natural. We don't need another person to tell us to fear these things. We can figure these things out for ourselves.

But in this day and age, we fear so many other things - things that are not so tangible. Why is that?

Well, I've got a good idea.

Fear is a great motivator. It can move people to do all sorts of things, even to kill. We are currently at war with the most intangible thing, "terrorism." Terrorism is not a flesh and blood thing, it's an idea. And you just can't kill an idea with bullets and bombs - yet that is what we are attempting in Iraq and Afghanistan - and that is exactly why there will never be an end to it. Every time our soldiers kill another insurgent, he misses the target. And a lessening of aggression is not victory, nor a sign that victory is at hand. It only means that these wars will now run a slower pace, perhaps to move to another location at the enemy's discretion.

People in positions of power can only maintain their power so long as they motivate people to follow them and their causes. And since fear is the greatest of motivators, we have a culture of leadership in this country that proscribes to the use of fear to get their way.

In our churches with the biggest congregations, fear is a major, if not overriding, topic. Although they give lip service to the loving grace of God, Leaders in these churches use the fear of damnation as the means to gain converts. And on occasion these church leaders will capitalize on people's fear of poverty, convincing the people in the congregation to hand over their last dollar, as if God was running some kind of spiritual lottery.

And the media will use fear to get people glued to the tv or news outlet, whether on the internet or other media form. In the methods they use to report the news, lead people to believe that crime is right around the corner and at any minute will make them the next victim. And producers of items like rifles and pistols and bullets, and pepper spray and home alarm systems, will do the same. Although the chances of a person being the victim of a home invasion is very small, and that the overwhelming majority of people will never experience such a crime in their lifetime, if you talk to people about it, you will hear them express great fear of it. Just talk to a gun nut - over and over again, they will express the fear that someone is just about to break into their home and "get" them. Of course there is much profit to be had, raising, and then exploiting, the fear of being a victim. And that is why gun manufacturers spend so much money fighting for gun ownership in politics. It's all about the profit. And if it means that people live in excessive fear, then so be it.

So, you take all these fear mongers messages in total and you find that we have created a culture of fear - of excessive fear - causing us to live at a level of fear that is unnatural and unrealistic, and not commensurate with reality.

And so we sequester ourselves to our small little houses in our suburbs, rarely ever venturing out - not even knowing our neighbors very well. It's amazing to me how many people I've talked to who will never come to downtown Nashville, believing it a cesspool of crime and degradation. Of course nothing could be further from the truth - but that is what they've been lead to believe.

Of course who lives downtown, but homeless people.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pluses and Minuses

U.S. Federal Deficits and Presidents

Matthew 7:9

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?

Everything I hear, from the people in the trenches, the homeless service providers that is, says that demand is up - a lot. That is the best indicator that the homeless population is increasing - a lot.

It is time to stop playing games with the lives of homeless people - political games, religious games, selfish games - or any combination thereof.

Since we have an expectation for political and religious organizations to handle issues of homelessness, and since politicians and religious persons are most likely to make promises of handling homeless issues, it is time for us to pay attention to what these people do for, and to, homeless people. And we need to hold them much more accountable than we currently do.

The wise saying quoted above questions the appropriateness of one's response to those in need. If someone needs water, why give them fire? If someone needs a doctor, why give them a Bible? If someone needs love, why tell them to pray to God? If someone needs food, why give them something they cannot eat?

If someone asks for religious instruction, then by all means give religious instruction. But of all the needs among the homeless, that is the least needed thing.

And for all you people motivated to 'lead homeless people to Christ' I tell you the truth - you are more likely to show the love and healing power of God by providing the practical things of life to the homeless, than by preaching at them. There is no magic in the words within the Bible. The Bible is only an instruction book designed to bring the magic out of you. And only when you get your head out of the Bible and apply what it teaches you, to real world, will you become of any worth, to God or the homeless.

Hate Who You Hate

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

God, I Need A Car

What Is This Guy Talking About?

David and Sarah Dark

The God Of Money

Now, many if not most people, when conjuring up an image of a God of Money, would consider that God to be sinister if not out right Diablo - the Devil. But a strange thing happened at a Bible study I attended last Friday, where this Christian man of God - an associate pastor of a Presbyterian church declared that God is a Capitalist.

Crazy? Yeah, you bet. Worse, he defended this idea only with what he himself had observed during the past 20 years. He said this because, from what he's seen, life has gotten better for people in the past 20 years. He made no use of actual scientific economic studies. He is, though, an employee of one of the most affluent churches in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the country. I seriously wonder if he's spent any time with actual poor people. He does brag of rubbing elbows with extremely wealthy people.

Funny, he didn't always have this point of view. Only in the past 4 months or so has he converted to "the other side." Sadly the bible study is only a half hour long. Because, I would certainly like to pick his brain some, and try to understand his point of view, and how he came to this conclusion.

Maybe we'll be able to talk more about it this coming Friday.

What Book Got You Hooked?

Seems like a good idea to me! First Books

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Designer Homeless Lifestyles

There is at least one serious design competition for designers, architects, and engineers which focuses on customized shopping carts for homeless people. The results are quite varied. From time to time, people ask me for advice on their designs.

There is a place for such considerations as improving the conditions of homelessness, for the reality is, there is currently no cure for homelessness. Still, we should give equal time and attention towards ending homelessness, so that such contraptions are no longer necessary.

Design Boom
Student Design

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Surge Failed - You Morons.

All that happened from "the surge" was to cause the bad guys to move their war against America to Afghanistan. Remember? Things are heating up in Afghanistan. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's happened here. Have yet another surge, this time in Afghanistan, and you'll see things heat up yet again in Iraq, or another country of the bad guy's choosing. Now we get to play even more hide and seek with these evil doers. And Bush's wish for an endless war will be fulfilled.


When people ask me, "What's it like to be homeless?" I cringe - mostly because it's a thoughtless question. If anyone would take even a moment to think about it, they would come to the conclusion that homelessness sucks. They certainly don't need me to tell them that.

But then every once in a great while, someone comes up with a thoughtful question/s. I'll post the latest here, and will ruminate in it for a while. Then answer at a later date.

but now, for you to think some on it too. Here is what was recently asked:

I really enjoy your perspective on homelessness and the information you provide regarding the economics and politics of the situation. I found your site while researching a paper for school. I'm a student in public health who got into the program primarily because of the volunteer work I've done overseas. My first career is in business, so I'm hoping with some education on health and safety along with my practical experience, I will have the right set of skills to help people in a practical, sustainable manner.

Through a class, I became more aware of the unique combination of circumstances that prevent the homeless from becoming healthy and well. Especially medical issues that are so dificult to prevent and treat adequately when a person in homeless with few resources. I have an internship and thesis requirement coming up next year, and I'm looking at gaining a position with a group that works with the homeless.

With the price of gas, and the fact that I won't be working for pay during my internship, I started thinking about locations. You have written about the places the homeless congregrate, specifically on the chicken/egg theory of what came first, the homeless people or the service providers. In Chicago it seems that most of the service providers are in sketchy neighborhoods, many that are in transistion and facing the pressures you have written about such as high end real estate being built in proximity to the homeless.

So, I want to stop and say here.....if anything I write is inappropriate, please consider me ignorant and in need of education and not as someone promoting some agenda. I think I'm trying to formulate an idea for bridging the gap between people.

I started thinking about the barriers between the "rich" and the homeless. And I realized that a main component is fear. Those who are well off have fear at many levels, although they may not admit to it. Fear of being hurt by someone, fear of being stolen from or losing value on their homes, and I think, most of all, fear of "there but for the grace of God go I". I don't want to look at it because one of my greatest fears is being in that situation.

I think most want to think of themselves as good people who are compassionate and that goes counter to "I don't want to see the dying homeless woman laying by my fence". I think many WANT to help, but are afraid because they don't know what will happen. Will they get attacked, will they gain a stalker, will they get sick or harmed in some way, will they somehow make things worse? And I think this is because this person is so different from them that they don't understand their thought processes.

For example, in the suburbs here, homeless shelters are more accepted. And I think that is because the suburban homeless "look" more like the residents here and there aren't an overwhelming number of homeless people. Because they look like what the public understands, there is more compassion and less fear. But, when a suburban white businessperson is faced with a black addict panhandling on the street downtown, this person is VERY different, not understood, and thereby feared and rejected. Is what I'm saying making any sense?

I'm thinking that if homelessness was personalized, there may be more tolerance and assistance provided by those with resources. Granted, it has to be the "right" kind of spokesperson. You, for example, don't come across as threatening. Your picture looks like any person I'd pass on the street without a second thought, and you are well spoken. Homed people can identify you and hear your message because they aren't afraid of you.

There will always be judgemental people who can't get beyond the choices someone made in their lives, and at some level think these folks deserve what they get. But I'm wondering if I can reduce the fear level of the people with resources who WANT to help but who are not sure how to safely--could that increase compassion and tolerance and the willingness to assist?

I'm thinking about a program specifically aimed at increasing the comfort level of the public. How to help in a sustainable and safe manner. I guess I'm trying to turn this around and instead of focusing on the problems of the homeless. focus on the problems of the public's perceptions. What do you think?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What's Up With Me

Depression mostly. I've had a bad case of it lately - more than I've had in a long time. Current stresses of trying to maintain the housing that I currently have, are a primary cause. Also, the let down after seeing my kids. My hope was that I would be able to reestablish a relationship with them. But, the meeting I had with them was only a one time deal - it was a great moment, but it was only a moment and nothing more.

It has gotten so bad that I've gone to a clinic so to start some counseling and some meds. I might be able to start taking Paxil again, and that would be good.

I still spend a bit of time in Second Life, but I no longer "play" there, but now only work. I have a few retail stores in Second Life, selling a brand of women's avatar clothing called, 'Coconut Ice.' And from the proceeds of these sales, I am now able to pay a portion of the rent on my real life housing. That's a good thing, and is keeping me from being even more depressed.

From a lack of resources, I'm down to eating just one meal a day, some elbow macaroni and a can of corn, or carrots, or some such combination. That's not such a bad thing, since I need to lose weight. But the hunger is rather distracting. Today, I did seek out breakfast at one church, and lunch at another - churches that feed the homeless on Sundays. Both are a couple miles from my apartment, so today I was actually able to eat until I was full - something I have not done in a while. And at the breakfast, I arrived early so I could help set up.

Funny, but when I was more in a "literal" homeless state, i had access to more food. But in housing, I am farther away from food resources.

There is still a lot of foot traffic and dope dealing going on around my housing complex - a lot of people without permission to be there are hanging out there. Supposedly there are rules for the residents to follow, restricting who they can have in their units and at what times, but few seem to adhere to those rules, and the owners of the complex have done nothing to enforce these rules. So, I get people knocking on my door at all hours - no I don't answer the door. I usually don't get a complete night's sleep for it.

Anyway, what's up with you?

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Glory Of Reagan

From the National Housing Institute

Issue #135, May/June 2004
Reagan’s Legacy: Homelessness in America
By Peter Dreier

As some Americans mourn the death of Ronald Reagan, let us recall that the two-term president was no friend to America’s cities or its poor. Reagan came to office in 1981 with a mandate to reduce federal spending. In reality, he increased it through the escalating military budget, all the while slashing funds for domestic programs that assisted working class Americans, particularly the poor.

Reagan’s fans give him credit for restoring the nation’s prosperity. But whatever economic growth occurred during the Reagan years only benefited those already well off. The income gap between the rich and everyone else in America widened. Wages for the average worker declined and the nation’s homeownership rate fell. During Reagan’s two terms in the White House, which were boon times for the rich, the poverty rate in cities grew.

His indifference to urban problems was legendary. Reagan owed little to urban voters, big-city mayors, black or Hispanic leaders, or labor unions – the major advocates for metropolitan concerns. Early in his presidency, at a White House reception, Reagan greeted the only black member of his Cabinet, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Samuel Pierce, saying: “How are you, Mr. Mayor? I’m glad to meet you. How are things in your city?”

Reagan not only failed to recognize his own HUD Secretary, he failed to deal with the growing corruption scandal at the agency that resulted in the indictment and conviction of top Reagan administration officials for illegally targeting housing subsidies to politically connected developers. Fortunately for Reagan, the “HUD Scandal” wasn’t uncovered until he’d left office.

Reagan also presided over the dramatic deregulation of the nation’s savings and loan industry allowing S&Ls to end their reliance on home mortgages and engage in an orgy of commercial real estate speculation. The result was widespread corruption, mismanagement and the collapse of hundreds of thrift institutions that ultimately led to a taxpayer bailout that cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

The 1980s saw pervasive racial discrimination by banks, real estate agents and landlords, unmonitored by the Reagan administration. Community groups uncovered blatant redlining by banks using federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act information. But Reagan’s HUD and justice departments failed to prosecute or sanction banks that violated the Community Reinvestment Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in lending. During that time, of the 40,000 applications from banks requesting permission to expand their operations, Reagan’s bank regulators denied only eight of them on grounds of violating CRA regulations.

By the end of Reagan’s term in office federal assistance to local governments was cut 60 percent. Reagan eliminated general revenue sharing to cities, slashed funding for public service jobs and job training, almost dismantled federally funded legal services for the poor, cut the anti-poverty Community Development Block Grant program and reduced funds for public transit. The only “urban” program that survived the cuts was federal aid for highways – which primarily benefited suburbs, not cities.

These cutbacks had a disastrous effect on cities with high levels of poverty and limited property tax bases, many of which depended on federal aid. In 1980 federal dollars accounted for 22 percent of big city budgets. By the end of Reagan’s second term, federal aid was only 6 percent.

The consequences were devastating to urban schools and libraries, municipal hospitals and clinics, and sanitation, police and fire departments – many of which had to shut their doors.

Reagan is lauded as “the great communicator,” but he sometimes used his rhetorical skills to stigmatize the poor. During his stump speeches while dutifully promising to roll back welfare, Reagan often told the story of a so-called “welfare queen” in Chicago who drove a Cadillac and had ripped off $150,000 from the government using 80 aliases, 30 addresses, a dozen social security cards and four fictional dead husbands. Journalists searched for this “welfare cheat” in the hopes of interviewing her and discovered that she didn’t exist.

The imagery of “welfare cheats” that persists to this day helped lay the groundwork for the 1996 welfare reform law, pushed by Republicans and signed by President Clinton.

The most dramatic cut in domestic spending during the Reagan years was for low-income housing subsidies. Reagan appointed a housing task force dominated by politically connected developers, landlords and bankers. In 1982 the task force released a report that called for “free and deregulated” markets as an alternative to government assistance – advice Reagan followed. In his first year in office Reagan halved the budget for public housing and Section 8 to about $17.5 billion. And for the next few years he sought to eliminate federal housing assistance to the poor altogether.

In the 1980s the proportion of the eligible poor who received federal housing subsidies declined. In 1970 there were 300,000 more low-cost rental units (6.5 million) than low-income renter households (6.2 million). By 1985 the number of low-cost units had fallen to 5.6 million, and the number of low-income renter households had grown to 8.9 million, a disparity of 3.3 million units.

Another of Reagan’s enduring legacies is the steep increase in the number of homeless people, which by the late 1980s had swollen to 600,000 on any given night – and 1.2 million over the course of a year. Many were Vietnam veterans, children and laid-off workers.

In early 1984 on Good Morning America, Reagan defended himself against charges of callousness toward the poor in a classic blaming-the-victim statement saying that “people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.”

Tenant groups, community development corporations and community organizations fought to limit the damage done by Reagan’s cutbacks. Some important victories were won when Clinton entered office – the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and stronger enforcement of the CRA. Funding for low-income housing, legal services, job training and other programs has never been restored to pre-Reagan levels, and the widening disparities between the rich and the rest persist.

President George W. Bush, who often claims Reagan’s mantle, recently proposed cutting one-third of the Section 8 housing vouchers – a lifeline against homelessness for two million poor families.

We’ve already named a major airport, schools and streets after Ronald Reagan, and since his death some people have suggested other ways to celebrate his memory. Perhaps a more fitting tribute to his legacy would be for each American city to name a park bench – where at least one homeless person sleeps every night – in honor of our 40th president.

Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and director of the Urban and Environmental Policy program at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He has co-authored two books, Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century and The Next LA: The Struggle for a Livable City, which will be published later this year.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Knocked Up. Knocked Down by Jeannie Alexander, as Published in The Contributor

The Contributor

The Contributor is Nashville's Homeless Newspaper. Despite editorial differences I have with people at the paper, I admit that every once in a while they run a good article. This is by far the best the paper has published.

The first time I met a homeless woman who was pregnant I was living in Atlanta working on my Masters in Religious Studies. We’ll call her “Kiki,” she was 17 years old, HIV positive, 4 months pregnant, and living under a bridge on Edgewood Ave. Kiki was always hungry for both love and food in equal amounts. I sent Kiki home to Tennessee on a bus once only to find her again a month later under the same bridge in late Autumn were more tolerable than her life at home.

bar"Where is the clean safe loving place that I can send homeless women to who are expecting? And even more importantly, where is the clean safe home that these women can then take their children to once they are born?”

I lost track of Kiki when she was seven months pregnant and I never saw her again. I remember sitting with her and holding her hand while she talked about the boys she liked; the men who had raped her twice under the bridge; and wishing she could go to church. I encouraged her to report the rapes, she refused but did go to Grady Memorial Hospital, the hopelessly under funded last refuge of the broken and damned of Atlanta’s streets and alleyways.

As for church I told her that she could go anytime and that I would go with her. Kiki was “brought up right” however, and as a consequence believed that she was too smelly, too dirty, and too full of sin to step foot in a church. None of my well honed theological arguments could change her mind and so we had church under the bridge on more than one occasion. Kiki among countless others whom I have grown to know and love, have taught me that no one understands the Gospel like the poor; the poor who are crucified daily in our streets.

quote“The issue of homelessness at its heart is not an issue of economics, it is a matter of morals. We can choose to be a just and ethical society, but to do so we must choose to enter into community with ‘the other.’”quote

A month ago I met “Lucy.” Lucy came to my office at the Nashville Homeless Power Project because she was hungry and wanted a bus ticket. She wore a reasonably clean polyester suit, but her hands were dirty and her nails broken. She began speaking in a rapid voice with quick smiles and said that the people downstairs in the Arcade had sent her up to us. I asked her what I could do for her and her face crumpled and she began to cry. She said that she was “just so hungry.” Our lease prohibits us from providing “services” to those in need and so I leave the Arcade when my conscience dictates that I act in a manner not in accord with the lease; after all it will not do for the Homeless Power Project to be homeless itself. As a consequence, I buy a heck of a lot of 1/2 pound cheeseburger combos from Cheeseburger Charlie’s. Lucy ate hungrily in a city where supposedly no one has to go hungry. It is true that in Nashville churches feed seven days a week, (speaking of which, it is a fact that the desperately poor in this land of plenty would starve were it not for the 10000’s of churches that feed people) however, accessing that food requires an individual to either walk for miles or obtain public transportation. Walking is the form of transportation utilized most often by the homeless, but often walking any real distance is not an option due to the fact that the feet of the homeless are often in deplorable condition, especially the feet of homeless women. There is also the issue of how well informed, or uninformed as is often the case, the homeless are concerning the services available in Nashville. Finally in the quest for food is the very real issue of physical and mental illness which often prevents an individual from traveling across the city; people are often too ill to move any real distance, or too incoherent to seek sustenance.

As Lucy ate we talked and it became clear very quickly that she suffered from mental illness. She told me about people who had been following her and about being raped multiple times. She claimed that a man had purchased food for her earlier but that it had been inedible because he had put semen in the food. Lucy also claimed to be pregnant, a condition that was not readily observable to my eyes, and seeking an abortion. I do not know how much of what she told me was true, but the events she related seemed true enough to her. I asked Lucy if she would consider an alternative to abortion if I could find care for her and her baby. She agreed to consider alternatives and said she had to go but that she would come back to see me. I have not seen Lucy since that day.

As a person who embraces a consistent pro-life ethic, the seamless garment from womb to tomb, I nonetheless find it difficult to council a woman not to abort a child when she is living on the streets. For too many religious folk pro-life actually means pro-fetus and the burden of caring for the child rests squarely on the already burdened shoulders of the mother once the child is born. Where is the clean safe loving place that I can send homeless women to who are expecting? And even more importantly, where is the clean safe home that these women can then take their children to once they are born? In the past two months I have come into contact with a handful of mothers whose children are sleeping with them on the street, or have slept with them out-of-doors recently. I search frantically for someplace safe for these women to go, and too often I come up empty handed. If you know of someplace please let me know and I will send you women in need by the dozens.

Yes it is true that there is the Women’s Mission that takes in homeless women and women with children, but the Mission can hardly accommodate the thousands of women and children in need in the Davidson County area. Moreover, during the past two months I have interviewed over 30 women who are currently staying, or have recently stayed at the Women’s Mission, and all but two gave a consistent and troubling picture of the Mission. The laundry list of complaints were as follows: unsanitary conditions, constantly changing rules, forced attendance at a religious service where the women have been called whores and drug addicts, inadequate food for the children, a prohibition on the sharing of child care so that women can take turns looking for a job, a failure to provide in house child care so that the women can look for a job, poor quality of food, refusal to allow women to pick out their own clothes, forcing women who are mentally ill to sleep in the chapel and also forcing women to sleep in the chapel as punishment, the list goes on and on. And this is why I ask where is the clean safe loving place that I can send women in need?

Finally I’ll tell you about Tanya. Tanya was beautiful, funny, black, proud, an addict, and dying from AIDS while trying to survive for one day longer out on the streets. My home church in Atlanta, Mercy Community Church, where I served/serve as co-pastor struggled to get Tanya into stable permanent housing, or into a long term care facility, we failed at both.

Every time Tanya was admitted to a medical facility they pumped her full of drugs, rehydrated her, and turned her back out into the streets. The residential care facilities that she was admitted to all had staffing and funding problems. The care was marginal and the atmosphere extremely depressing, but apparently it was the best our system had to offer Tanya. As I said, Tanya was proud (and did I mention stubborn?) and she soon left the care facility. Tanya would wedge herself between two fences during the day to sleep. One fence was a privacy fence surrounding The Open Door Community, a Catholic Worker house that fed, clothed, and cared for Tanya on many occasions, and the other fence surrounded a tennis court at an upscale overpriced trendy apartment building. Occupying a space between two worlds; one offering a promise of God’s Kingdom yet unfulfilled, and the other completely rejecting her, she existed in a state of limbo. Apparently it put the tennis players off their game to see a dying woman lying against the fence and so they made calls to have her removed. The hospital came one last time to take Tanya away and the decision was made to admit her to hospice care.

I was stunned when I went to the hospice care facility to visit Tanya. The facility was beautiful, safe, welcoming, and staffed by compassionate competent people. In death Tanya was able to obtain what she could not in life, a safe place to live. She survived for a couple of weeks longer. I sat with another woman, a friend and Catholic Worker, at Tanya’s bedside the day she died. We read to her from the Bible, prayed, and played Miles Davis for her. But Tanya was no longer responsive. My hand rested on top of the bed’s comforter and I could feel her bony leg through the blanket. I held her leg and Heather held her arm as her body struggled with seizures to let loose the battered life within it. My co-pastor, Chad Hyatt, along with a couple of members of Mercy took our place at Tanya’s bedside and I left to teach the Wednesday night bible study and serve the Wednesday night meal. Chad called during the meal to tell us Tanya had passed. One of our parishioners who had been with Chad when Tanya died was Tanya’s friend “Lisa.” Lisa was tough as nails, homeless and ravaged by the same unforgiving disease as Tanya. Upon entering the Wednesday night space she collapsed to the ground shrieking and waling in terror. I will never forget her high pitched tortured screams of “that’s me, that’s going to be me!” I wanted to comfort her, to say “no honey that’s not going to be you,” but that would be a lie, and not even a helpful comforting lie. We held each other and wept.

There are women like Tanya, “Lucy,” “Kiki,” and “Lisa” in every city. In Nashville there are over 2200 woman, many with children, who are in desperate need, who are dying on the streets every week, every day. But it does not have to be like this, the world does not have to look like this. The issue of homelessness at its heart is not an issue of economics, it is a matter of morals. We can choose to be a just and ethical society, but to do so we must choose to enter into community with “the other.” We must see people as individual human beings with inherent dignity and moral worth, not problems to be “fixed.” We are all creations of the same Creator. None of us are children of a lesser god, and if we dare to simply close the gaps between us a new world will not only be possible, it will exist.

Tanya’s family would not claim her body. I don’t know if her children were even told that she died. We, her community in Christ, fought a mindless bureaucracy in trying to claim Tanya’s body. The Presbyterian Church that gives our little church space offered to let us use their main sanctuary for her funeral. But there was to be no proper funeral, one last insult heaped upon the injured broken body of a woman failed by a system that crucifies the poor. So after fighting for our sister’s body for weeks we were given a time and location to follow the hearse to an undisclosed burial plot where paupers are buried in unnamed graves by county employees who dig sewage ditches and sanitation lines when they are not burying the poor.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Nashville Homelessness Commission Newsletter

The Downtown Clinic, located at 8th Avenue South next to the Campus for Human Development, is scheduled to undergo administrative changes this Fall. Location and health services will remain the same but may be expanded over time.
In This Issue... August 2008

New Operator for Downtown Clinic
Operation of the Downtown Clinic, a primary health care facility for the homeless, is transferring from the Metro Health Department to United Neighborhood Health Services beginning the 1st of November.

United Neighborhood Health Services (UNHS), a local nonprofit organization founded in 1976, provides quality health care services for underserved populations at five neighborhood clinics, three school clinics and a mobile clinic.

Scott Orman, director of the Downtown Clinic for the Homeless, said the clinic will remain in the same location and will continue providing the same services, which include primary medical care, mental health services through a part-time psychiatrist, outpatient alcohol and drug treatment, and adult dental care.

"However, we will have a pretty dramatic turnover of staff," Orman said. "And the reason for that is that Metro employees had an option to go with United Neighborhood or to stay with the Metro Health Department and almost all of them have chosen to stay with Metro Health." Other staff changes include the move from the current part-time physician to a full-time physician in addition to the nurse practitioner.

This administrative move came about when the Metro Health Department examined all of its services under its strategic planning process. What department officials found was that the Downtown Clinic for the Homeless is the only clinic within the Metro Health Department that provides primary medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment and adult dental health care. "And so as part of the strategic planning, the department looked to see whether there were community partners that are willing and able to provide services to the homeless and if those organizations would be a better match," Orman said. "United Neighborhood Health Services was that community partner, and the organization was very interested in applying for the federal grant that the Downtown Clinic traditionally gets."

Orman said that grant is for $1.2 million and as far as he knows UNHS is the only organization in Davidson County that has applied for it, which makes it very likely that it will receive the money.

Moving the homeless health services under the umbrella of a nonprofit organization makes it easier for the Downtown Clinic to accept private donations.

"It does open the door for private fundraising," Orman said. "For instance, it would be wonderful to make some major building changes here and add space. But there is no money to do that right now. "If we had a benefactor who wanted to spend $1 million to expand the building - that would be great. That wouldn't happen with government funding."

The total operating budget of the Downtown Clinic is roughly $2 million. Homeless health services will likely be expanded under UNHS and be provided at different locations across the city with the main site still on 526 Eighth Avenue South next to the Campus for Human Development and near the Nashville Rescue Mission.

The Downtown Clinic started as a grassroots organization in 1985 and was funded for the first five years through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. After its initial three years, it moved under the Metro Health Department, which at that time still provided primary care services through several community clinics. However, Metro backed out of primary health care after TennCare was formed. The move of the Downtown Clinic for the Homeless back to a nonprofit organization will be a return to its original roots within the community.

For more information about United Neighborhood Health Services visit
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Eckman/Freeman: Housing Key to Successful Case Management

For the past two years, the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission has contracted with Eckman/Freeman & Associates to provide wrap-around services (intensive case management) to chronically homeless clients in the Commission's pilot project, which is currently funded for 26 clients.

Founded in 1985, Eckman/Freeman is a private, fully accredited regional case management organization based in Lexington, Ky., and Nashville. Services are provided utilizing a team approach with master's level social workers, registered nurses, master's level vocational counselors, and social security advocates.

Of the current 26 clients in Eckman/Freeman's care, 20 have been moved into permanent housing and six may not be eligible for housing in the future because of failed drug tests, criminal records, a lack of income or other causes that restrict them from being successful housing applicants, according to case manager Vincent Toney. Housing, however, is key to successful case management. "Housing and wrap-around services have to go hand-in-hand," Sharon Marsh, operations manager with Eckman/Freeman, says.

At the Homelessness Commission meeting in July, Toney talked about ongoing problems that Eckman/Freeman has encountered, namely a lack of identified housing options in Nashville for people who are most difficult to place because of their substance abuse, their criminal background or a lack of income. "One of the places where we house several clients requires a background check, and therefore some consumers are not eligible for that facility," Toney said. "And many of our clients do not have income to apply with individual property owners who may not run background checks."

The waiting list for Nashville's public housing is several months long, Toney continued, and the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) is currently not accepting Section 8 or Shelter Plus Care applications. "So safe, affordable permanent housing continues to be an issue," Toney said.

All of Eckman/Freeman's cases have mental health issues and need intensive case management. Most have additional physical disabilities. They belong to the toughest client category in town.

The Metropolitan Homelessness Commission spends an average of $11,000 per person per year for case management (wrap-around services) to individuals in the pilot project. Since the beginning of the program two years ago, 53 individuals have been served.

This compares to $14,000 per person in 2007 that Portland, Maine, spent to provide wrap-around services to the 99 people in their care (93 of those clients having severe mental illness).

Many studies, however, show their cost savings by combining housing and case management services in their published numbers. The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA), for example, reported in 2007 that the cost of housing and services per person per month decreased from $2,720 before housing to $1,939 after housing placement.

In other words, the cost decreased from $32,640 for services per person per year to $23,268 for housing and services.

When examining Nashville's numbers, housing a homeless person in an efficiency room costs $551 per month (per the HUD Fair Market Rent Table), and $629 for a one-bedroom unit. Therefore, housing with wrap-around services in Nashville cost $17,612, or $18,548 respectively, per person per year.

Many chronically homeless clients deal with mental health issues, which increases the cost of services. A study released by the Fanny Mae Foundation in 2002 examined 4,679 homeless people with severe mental illness that were placed in supportive housing between 1989 and 1997 and found that prior to housing they used on average $40,449 worth of public services per person per year (in 1999 dollars). After two years in supportive housing, the cost decreased by $12,145 per person.

What kind of case management/wrap-around services does Eckman/Freeman provide? Tonya Cain, senior account executive with Eckman/Freeman, says wrap-around services teach clients everyday life skill necessary to keep them in housing.

Some of their services include: Assisting consumers to locate and apply for affordable housing;Assisting consumers to understand the rules of housing;Coordinating community resources for necessities such as food, clothing and transportation;Social skills coaching; Conflict resolution; SSI and SSDI advocacy; Vocational services;Providing financial education, coordination and support; Arranging transportation to jobs, treatment providers and other appointments;Crisis calls 24 hours per day, seven days per week;Locating and assisting consumers to participate in personal enrichment activities and literacy programs;Advocacy for consumer rights; Re- ferrals to and assistance with Legal Aid; Facilitation of reestablishing family contact; and Home management skills coaching.

Such crisis calls could include danger of suicide or a tenant lighting a fire on the apartment floor, not realizing that fires are dangerous indoors.

In short, wrap-around services are designed to assist individuals in every possible scenario and help them cope with living their life in a home. "Many times, people have spent so many years ... living outside, that they really have no idea how to cook anything, they don't know how to keep things clean, they don't know the rules," Cain said. "Sometimes when they first get into housing, it takes daily trips to teach them life skills, in addition to the coordination of all needed services."

During May and June, Eckman/Freeman provided an average of 41 hours of case management services per client, with 45.5 on-call hours (after regular business hours)."One of our clients is terminally ill, and he needs a lot more case management than we normally provide," Toney said.

The program is currently open to clients who meet the HUD definition of chronically homeless, with a waiting list of 13 clients referred by various organizations.
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In Other Cities: Atlanta's Gateway Service Center

The Gateway Service Center in Atlanta is all about ending chronic homelessness for individuals, according to the center's Executive Director Vince Smith.

The center is open 24/7 and connects homeless people with the specific services they need to move each person toward self-sufficiency.

If a person calls the community's 2-1-1 information hotline and asks for help with homelessness, he or she will be directed to the Gateway Center. As such, the Gateway Center has become the point of entry to Atlanta's Continuum of Care.

The Gateway Center, which is located in a former jail, is a true collaboration involving more than 50 partner agencies, Smith said. "Some agencies have on-site staff, others bring staff in at certain points in time."

The point of entry is located on the first floor of the Gateway Center, where caseworkers provide outreach, intake, assessment and referral services. It can be viewed as a "triage center" for homelessness. There is also sufficient space for the homeless to get out of the elements - rain, snow and the summer heat.

The center offers a place to rest, toilets, telephones, showers and laundromats, receive food and water, utilize temporary storage for personal possessions, and more.

Also on the first floor is a safe area accessible only to women and children through a separate, strictly monitored entrance. The women's shelter provides 30 beds.

The remaining three floors provide beds and services accessible to homeless men in different circumstances. For example, the second and third floors offer: 45 transition beds for chronically homeless men, especially individuals with a dual diagnosis (mental health and substance abuse issues) and other special needs;23 beds for respite care;23 beds for homeless men discharged from jail for misdemeanors;45 transitional beds for men with full-time employment;22 assigned emergency beds that are attached to an in-house medical clinic (people can stay there for seven to 14 days); and 22 beds for individuals participating in job training programs.

Homeless veterans are served on the fourth floor with 46 beds for transitional housing. Those beds are run in collaboration with the Atlanta VA. An additional 45 beds are set-aside for men who are waiting to enter substance abuse treatment programs. During their waiting period, these men have access to support services such as AA meetings and drug/alcohol education classes.

The Gateway Center also has a gymnasium that can house additional people in emergency situations. And the center's in-house kitchen provides not only meals for residents on all four floors of the building but also offers a job-training program.
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Michelle Wilson,
HMIS administrator

The NHMIS: Putting a Face on Homelessness In Nashville

Here's the scenario: A homeless man rolls out of the bed that he's slept in at the local homeless mission, eats breakfast there, then quickly makes his way to another mission to eat a second breakfast - or brunch, as he calls it. Meanwhile, a homeless single mother scrambles to find adequate health care for her young daughter struggling with leukemia. While one homeless person spends his days taking advantage of the city's homeless assistance agencies and programs, another somehow falls through the cracks, and suffers - even dies - for lack of needed care.

One answer to both of these unfortunate scenarios: the Nashville Homeless Management Information System or NHMIS, a computer system that oversees services to homeless people. The goal of Nashville's HMIS is to have service providers - various non-profit organizations - sign up to the system and enter information detailing any services rendered to homeless individuals. This system would allow for a better citywide coordination, and help city officials avoid duplication of services.

"This database system will allow our city's service providers to better serve the homeless by accurately identifying the homeless in Nashville and, more importantly, identifying what they need to get back on their feet," said Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. "Certainly, I wish we could do more, but in tight financial times an investment like this, which will maximize the resources already in hand, makes all the more sense."

Clifton Harris, Homelessness Services Coordinator of the Metropolitan Nashville Homelessness Commission, applauds the Mayor's commitment to the HMIS. "Thanks to the Mayor's support of our proposal to designate a person who does nothing else other than HMIS, a new HMIS systems administrator has been hired," said Harris. "Her mandate is to oversee a user-friendly system that can eventually provide us the data and information to successfully monitor every single case start to finish."

"I love my job," said Michelle Wilson, the newly hired HMIS administrator. "A homeless person comes in for services. We record those services. We can better analyze gaps in services to figure out what people need and how to better serve them."

According to Harris, by June 2009, through the HMIS, the Commission should be able to tell the community the following: How many homeless persons are on the streets of Nashville; A categorization of the homeless by type (age, gender, race, special needs, mental health, addictions, prior living condition, length of homelessness, etc.);What agencies are actively participating;The number assigned to homeless persons that would allow for more efficient delivery of services and avoid duplication of those services;How beds are being effectively assigned in shelters;The cost of service to each client; Who the actual homeless are in Nashville.

"I hope eventually - in the next five years - we would be able to lessen the hardship that homelessness causes," said Wilson. "And eventually - hopefully - we can get to a point where it doesn't exist. But we have to take it one step at a time."

-Carla Adair Hendricks
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Appropriate Burial for the Homeless

A homeless man is found dead, bundled in clothing by the side of the road. His friends and family don't know he's died, and he has no way of paying for a decent funeral.

"Even though they're homeless, they're still individuals. And they're still people," said Metro police chaplain James Duke. Duke is part of a network of social service organizations that make sure the homeless are buried with dignity.

The first task is to determine who the homeless person is, a responsibility of the medical examiner's office with help from the chaplain's office at the Metro Police Department. Duke says common ways of identifying a deceased homeless person include photo identification such as a driver's license or veteran's administration card, locating friends of the deceased, including any homeless acquaintances, and fingerprinting.

Once the individual's identity has been forensically confirmed by the medical examiner's office, the chaplain and the medical examiner begin the process of identifying next of kin. Normally, one of the first avenues taken to locate next of kin is contacting the Nashville Rescue Mission, which will often keep information cards for those who stay there. A second option is checking records at the Sheriff's department. "Sometimes I'll do both to see if things match up," Duke said.

After the body has been identified and a family member has been told, the Burial Assistance program under Metro Social Services initiates the pre-burial and burial procedures. This process begins with a meeting with the representative for the deceased. This representative is normally from the medical examiner's office.

Tasks of the Burial Assistance program include setting a date and time for the burial service, making arrangements with the funeral home, and contacting the Bault Company, who arranges for the concrete box liner in the grave.

The representative for the deceased decides which funeral home will be used. He or she must also agree to a gravesite burial. The funeral home provides the casket, and the cemetery provides the headstone.

Each complete burial, which is secular unless Metro Social Services has information or requests otherwise, costs around $1,900.

The homeless are buried in the Hills of Calvary Cemetery because there is no longer space available in Bordeaux, a Metro cemetery. Hills of Calvary "is a very nice cemetery, and they have agreed to work with us until such time that Metro Government can secure land for a burial site," Venson said.

Homeless individuals who have been honorably discharged from the army are interred in the veteran's cemetery. "They have a right to be buried as a veteran, so if that is information that needs to be checked, then that needs to be done," said Venson.

If family is located, personal effects left behind by the homeless individual are given to them. If no family is located and the homeless individual had personal effects, the funeral home will place these items in the casket.

Those in attendance at the funeral of a homeless person vary. In addition to known friends and family, Venson says that "nine times out of 10," the social worker that has worked with the representative for the deceased will attend the burial. She also says that seeing a member of the clergy at a homeless burial is not unusual. "We have had, on occasion, clergy who know an individual and wish to say some words at the gravesite," she said. "That is definitely permitted and welcomed."

If there is no one in attendance, one of the funeral home directors "might say a few words before the casket is actually lowered into the ground," Venson said.

While the burial itself is a minimal service, Venson insists that the highest priority of the Burial Assistance program is "ensuring that there is respect and dignity for the individual being buried."
-Abby Selden

An accurate number of homeless deaths are currently not available.

The Tennessee Department of Health's statistics do not clearly indicate whether a deceased individual was homeless. The latest available statewide data shows that in 2006 three dead individuals' home location was unknown and five individuals' addresses were equal to homeless. "But there is really nothing that provides that clear-cut picture of whether an individual is homeless," Andrea Turner, spokesperson of the state's Health Department, said.

However, the Metro Health Department is working on a report of homeless deaths, which should be ready by December.

The most accurate estimates are usually based on the knowledge and count of local advocacy groups, which believe that 12 homeless individuals have died during the first six months of 2008, among them a homeless lady who was pregnant. She was a diabetic and her homeless situation made it hard for her to keep her blood sugar in check. However, the cause of her death is unknown at this point in time.
- Judy Tackett
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National Project Homeless Connect Nashville

The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness has deemed it an "innovation" in addressing the misery of homelessness. On Dec. 2, 2008, this innovation, National Project Homeless Connect, is coming to Nashville.

The current model of National Project Homeless Connect traces its roots back to the Operation Stand Down event for veterans and San Francisco, Calif., where Mayor Gavin Newsom launched the first Project Homeless Connect.

Since that time, less than three years ago, more than 170 communities in the United States, Canada and Australia have implemented the project with more events planned throughout the rest of the year.

In one day, Nashville National Project Homeless Connect will offer a trajectory out of homelessness to an estimated 3,000 people who have been pushed to the fringes of society by inviting them back into the community.

The event, held at The Municipal Auditorium, will offer one stop shopping of resources. Over 50 different services will be made available including dental care, identifications, benefits enrollment, and job opportunities; the Housing First Initiative aims to take 50 people directly from the streets to permanent homes that night.

When asked which of the services he was most excited about, Clifton Harris, homelessness coordinator for the City of Nashville and Davidson County said, "I.D.s, because there is nothing you can do without them."

Judge Dan Eisenstein will hold community court on site and believes the judicial system "should be an integral part of solving the problem" of homelessness. Judge Eisenstein feels that to make an impact on homelessness we as a society must "deal with people on an individual level." It is a conviction that aligns perfectly with the basic philosophy of the project. One way participants will be offered individuality and dignity is that they will be referred to as "clients".

At the beginning of the day, each client will be partnered with a volunteer who will guide them through the services available. In all, 3,500 volunteers from all sectors - government, business, non-profit and faith - will join forces to extend community to the homeless, change the way resources are offered, and produce quantifiable results.

The event involves the whole community in an effort to end homelessness. Harris says, "I often meet people who want to help but don't know how to get involved. Project Homeless Connect offers them that opportunity."

Volunteers from every walk of life are essential but in every city Project Homeless Connect finds its catalyst in the mayor's office. "In the cities that are participating in Project Homeless Connect across our country, it begins with the political will of the mayor," says Philip Managano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. It is that collaboration between governmental and civic agencies that makes National Project Homeless Connect so unique and so effective.

A concert free to the homeless will cap off the event that night; it will be open to the rest of the community for a fee.
-Sherri Gragg
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Homelessness Prevention: 700 Families Assisted in Past Two Years

Prevention is key for the city's goal of eliminating homelessness by 2015. However, in the current economic climate an increasing number of people are calling Metro Social Services' Homeless Services Unit to ask for support with their housing payments, especially their rent.

In the month of May, the Homeless Services Unit received 782 phone calls from people asking for help, which is up from 469 requests in February, according to Giovanni Achoe, program manager of the MSS Homeless Services Unit. "What's interesting about May is that this was during the time of the federal stimulus package," Achoe said. "People were still receiving their stimulus checks and many had just gotten their tax refunds and we still had that many calls. It's unbelievable!"

MSS social workers answer every call and evaluate the need of the household. Then the caller is referred to appropriate service providers in the community, said Ouida D. Cole, a MSS program coordinator and case manager.

"Sometimes we're able to help our customers negotiate with their landlords," Cole said.

Since Metro Social Services does not have a funding pool to distribute, it created multiple partnerships with diverse organizations. One such partnership exists with Rooftop, a consortium of 28 congregations that serves as a last resort to prevent people from becoming homeless.

In the past two years, Rooftop with MSS help has been able to help more than 700 households, which otherwise would have become homeless. On average, Rooftop helps 40-42 households per month. Achoe said many households include children. "Most people don't understand - Rooftop is truly homeless prevention," Achoe said. "For the majority of people who receive Rooftop help, if they don't get this, they end up homeless."

On average about 170 households every month are being referred to MSS' Homeless Services Unit from churches participating in Rooftop.

Bill Coke, a founding member of Rooftop, said when a client calls a participating church, the information is taken and then faxed to Metro Social Services. The MSS Homeless Services Unit then explores all the options available to help that person or family.

If MSS social workers find that Rooftop is the only one that can help, they refer them back to
Rooftop who sends housing payment directly to the property owner. Generally, a family in need will have to come up with a portion of the outstanding payment while Rooftop donates the remaining amount, no more than $300.

Achoe said most of the households are working poor making on average $7-$10 an hour. Often times 40-50% of the household income goes toward housing, and rising energy costs increase the burden to remain housed. One incidence such as a sick child, a broken down car, or anything else that prevents a worker from getting to the job can be enough to lose employment.

"We're finding so many people in so much need in this community, and it's gratifying that congregations are coming together and are able to work together on this common problem," Coke said. "On the other hand, we only have 28 congregations at this point, and we have over 600 congregations in Nashville."

Rooftop is actively recruiting congregations and encourages them to get involved. Contact Metro Social Services at 880-2526 for more information.
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Rebecca Burchette holds one of her three kittens sitting at a campsite.

If you would like to assist the homeless with their pets send financial contributions to the Metropolitan Development & Housing Agency, c/o Metropolitan Homelessness Commission, 701 South Sixth Street, Nashville, TN 37206. Please note in the memo section of the check what the contribution is for. Monetary donations will help with spaying and neutering of pets and cover additional treatment costs. If you want to donate dog or cat food, flea & tick treatments call 615-424-1176.

Unsung Heroes: A Veterinary Treats Homeless' Pets

She wants to remain unnamed, rendering her services out of the goodness of her heart. This veterinary deeply cares for the homeless and their pets.

For the past three months, she has visited campsites and other locations around town several times during the month, at least once a week. In addition to her regular visits, she responds to emergencies immediately and around the clock, even though she lives outside of Davidson County.

Homeless pet owners have come to entrust their animals to her. Trust is hard to come by in this community and must be earned. Not many people are able to trust easily while living in a tent, hidden away in the Nashville area. That's why they are emotionally so attached to their pets, a dog, a cat, a hamster or even a snake. "A dog in a camp has an important job," David "Cowboy" Luttrell said. "A dog keeps away possums, coons, rats and other critters that might carry rabies or diseases into a homeless camp."

The bonds between the homeless and their pets run deep. Some homeless took in strays, others had their pets for years before they became homeless and just couldn't leave them behind. "I had a dog called Rodeo," Cowboy said. "I wouldn't go to the shelter, even in cold weather, because I couldn't take Rodeo with me. We stuck together through everything."

Cowboy coordinates the calls between the homeless pet owners and the vet. He says she takes every opportunity to go to the camps."She's great. She goes the extra mile," said Rebecca Burchette, who lives in Tent City near Downtown.

It all started when the vet approached the Metro Health Department and offered her help. Cowboy is a member of the Health Department's advisory board and as such heard of her interest and was able to introduce her to the homeless community. "She does everything on a volunteer basis and she doesn't want any recognition for the good she's doing," Cowboy said. "What is more, she pays for all the procedures out of her own pocket."

The vet program has opened conversations on other fronts. Burchette, for example, is now back on a list to get into housing, she credits that to the veterinary program's outreach efforts.
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Commission chair changes cut: from left to right: Erik Cole, Clifton Harris, Howard Gentry

News Briefs:

* The Metropolitan Homelessness Commission has a new chair. Former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber Public Benefit Foundation, has chaired the Commission for the last three years. Councilman Erik Cole will take the helm from Gentry starting this month. Cole has been an active member of the Commission since it was formed three years ago and has taken a leadership role on the Commission's Health and Behavioral Health Committee.
* About 42,000 uninsured Nashville residents are enrolled in the Bridges to Care program, approximately 12 percent of these individuals are homeless. "I dare say that if you've got over 5,000 homeless individuals in your system ..., you've got to know there are way more," said Howard Gentry, former chair of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission at the July meeting. Brides to Care (BTC) links uninsured residents of Davidson County to a network of approximately 35 safety net primary health, dental, mental health, and substance abuse clinics that serve patients based on their ability to pay. BTC also provides help with prescription medications and transportation.
* The Metropolitan Homelessness Commission is getting ready to present an economic study entitled "The Hidden Cost of Homelessness in Nashville" by early September. An article will address the cost of homelessness in the next newsletter.
* General Hospital has closed its outpatient pharmacy, which has served uninsured individuals in Nashville under the Bridges to Care program. The Lentz Pharmacy, at 311 23rd Ave. North, is still open. Another option is to go to the Downtown Clinic, at 526 Eighth Ave. South. However, The Downtown Clinic is NOT a pharmacy and only dispenses medication to its patients.
* The Metropolitan Homelessness Commission has hired Michelle Wilson as its HMIS systems coordinator. HMIS stands for Homelessness Management Information System and the federal government is requiring cities to get the system up and running (see related story) or face a loss in federal funding.
* The first Walk for the Homeless, sponsored by the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission, will likely coincide with the Homeless Power Project's annual Memorial Service, which is held each December in memory of the individuals who have died in the streets during the previous year. The Walk will serve as a fundraiser and nonprofit organizations who participate in the walk will receive 80% of the funding raised while the rest will benefit the Homelessness Commission. Organizational meetings are currently underway and updates on the event will be reported in the next newsletter.
* Many cities that have brought together the community to take on the task of ending chronic homelessness in 10 years have done so with the help of a community champion. A community champion is a business leader with high standing in the city with the ability to bring the for-profit-sector to the table and tackle homelessness from a business perspective. The Metropolitan Homelessness Commission is currently working on identifying Nashville's own community champion who will head a team of business leaders and help open the homelessness discussion to the entire community.
* Do you know the difference between the main homelessness advocacy groups in town?The Metropolitan Homelessness Commission is charged to implement Nashville's Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. The Commission is currently housed under the Metropolitan Housing and Development Agency (MDHA) and serves to bring together providers citywide to address homelessness citywide. Commissioners represent Metro government nonprofit sector, the homeless, and the general public.The Nashville Homeless Power Project is a group of homeless and formerly homeless individuals who advocate for the homeless.The Nashville Coalition for the Homeless consists of homeless service providers with the purpose to network amongst each other to better serve the homeless.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ayn Rand

Contemplate on the following quote from Atlas Shrugged, while reading the post previous to this one.

"Did you really think we want those laws observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted and you create a nation of law-breakers and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Reardon, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with." ('Atlas Shrugged' 1957)

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Ruse

So, it was announced recently that "some group" of people were offering homeless people a one way ticket out of town. Obviously they are kind-hearted folks just giving homeless people a hand. Certainly this isn't some expedient measure to rid Nashville of homeless people.

Well, I talked to a few homeless people yesterday and this is what they told me. To receive the free Greyhound bus ticket to the destination of your choice, all the homeless person has to do is make an appointment with some Lieutenant at the downtown police headquarters, and he will give you the ticket. Of course while there he will run a background check on you. So, if you have any kind of ourstanding charge or warrant against you, instead of a free trip out of town, you receive a free trip to jail.

On the surface, you may think nothing wrong with this procedure. But lets dig deeper. For almost a decade now, the police of Nashville have been cranking up the pressure on homeless people - believing that if they made life more difficult for the homeless, the homeless would either choose to no longer be homeless, or would leave town. Considering that Nashville's homeless population has only risen during this period, one would think (if one was given to thinking) that this approach was ineffective. Of course their thinking leads them to believe that only more of the same, increasing the same, would eventually do the trick. Lord knows they could never admit to possibly being wrong about the benefits of this approach.

The result of the many years of pressuring and harassing the homeless has resulted in nearly every single homeless person having a criminal background. The crimes they are charged with? Oh, littering, blocking sidewalk traffic with their possessions, sleeping in alcoves just off the sidewalk (for the small protection from the elements and street predators such alcoves afford), etc.

One of the overarching paradigms that homeless people live by (the majority of the homeless anyway) is a disregard for society in general. They just don't care what others think of them, they have no desire to conform to social edicts. This is but one of the reasons why homeless people do not respond the way hoped for when the police and others harass and pressure the homeless.

So, some police officer writes a homeless person a ticket for loitering. The homeless person is just as likely to use that piece of paper to roll a cigarette with, wipe his bum with, as to actually take heed. Well, the law requires that a person respond to tickets that are issued to them. If they do not, a judge will issue a warrant for that person to be brought before the judge to answer for the crime they are charged with. Because homeless people are very unlikely to answer for such charges as littering, they will have a warrant placed on them. And, even if the homeless person were to go before the judge and answer as to why they committed the crime, the result would be court costs being assigned to the homeless person, in addition to "paying" for their original crime. And homeless people just don't have that kind of money to pay court costs, which could easily amount to hundreds of dollars. And failure to pay court costs will result in yet another warrant being placed on the homeless person for failure to pay.

And being that most homeless people don't like going to jail, the result of all of this is predictable. Very few homeless people are going to come forward to request the bus ticket out of town. Except for those few who know they do not have any pending charges against them, or are just not that bright.

For this idea to really work, the people fronting the money for the bus tickets should move the program to one of Nashville's homeless service providers. And allow that service provide to determine the actual homeless situation and need of the individual, and have them distribute the bus tickets.

Doesn't that make more sense? Is it really helping anything to fill the jails with homeless people?

Well, much of the jail system in Nashville has been privatized. And so there are some people motivated to keep the jails as full as possible, so to increase their profit margin....could that be the real motivation behind all this? hmmmm.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Wow, I thought it a good idea, and it seems it was. I was introduced to GoodReads by N.M.Kelby, the author of "Murder at The Bad Girl's Bar and Grill." Ya know, the book that "I" inspired. I read it and it is a fun and entertaining book. Well, over 60 people from my email list signed up for GoodReads. And I've received over 300 book recommendations in just the past couple days from it.