NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Metro Nashville and homeless outreach advocates are criticizing a state agency for clearing out multiple encampments on state property without offering resources, including housing, claiming it’s created new encampments and more problems for people experiencing homelessness.
The Director of the Office of Homeless Services, April Calvin, pointed out the problems during the latest Metro Homeless Planning Council meeting.
Calvin told councilmembers agencies, like the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), have spent the past 18 months clearing out homeless encampments on state property “without warning” and without offering other housing options to the people staying there. That has resulted in new encampments in other parts of the city, according to Calvin.
“They don’t have a plan on housing people from these locations, so that means they just push people down the road, unfortunately, but it also means they don’t secure the property so it becomes a revolving event,” Calvin said.
India Pungarcher, an advocacy and outreach specialist with Open Table Nashville, told News 2 shutting down encampments without providing housing resources is “putting a Band-Aid” on the problem by pushing it onto someone else’s land or property. She said it can also increase mortality and overdose rates among those forced to leave their camps.
“All these people have to have a place to exist, so they’re going to move somewhere else,” Pungarcher said. “Maybe that’s going to end up being another piece of state property, and we’re going to end up in this exact same situation. Maybe it’s a piece of public property; maybe it’s private property,” she continued. “I think this reinforces this idea that when you’re experiencing homelessness, people and government entities often forget these are actual human beings and you need to be able to provide a place for them to exist.”
However, a TDOT spokesperson said the agency isn’t clearing out encampments, but attempting to maintain their property after receiving multiple complaints over safety and cleanliness from taxpayers and first responders.
“We as a state agency know that we owe it to the taxpayers of this state to continue to maintain safe roadways and state property, and oftentimes what happens in these locations is bridges can catch fire, our maintenance staff can be threatened and put at risk, and quite frankly, it’s also the safety of the unhoused individuals,” said TDOT spokesperson Rebekah Hammonds in a phone interview.
Hammonds told News 2 TDOT crews give individuals living in encampments on state property advanced warning to leave before cleaning up the area. If they don’t leave the property within the multiple weeks notice, according to Hammonds, TDOT will work with law enforcement to address the issue.
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Hammonds said TDOT recognizes the sensitivity and complexity of the issue and the agency wants to be empathetic toward the situation.
TDOT is waiting for the city to find housing for individuals staying at three different encampments on state property before cleaning up the area, according to Hammonds. That includes an encampment located a few blocks away from Nissan Stadium.