NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As the city works to address Nashville’s homelessness problem, national legal experts say there are things leaders need to consider if they plan to clean up encampments like the one in Brookmeade Park in West Nashville.
“There are a lot of legal rights that are implicated when people who live outside, because they can’t afford to live inside, are displaced from public space. And that relates to a number of constitutional rights that we have,” said Tristia Bauman, Senior Attorney at the Homelessness Law Center.
Bauman says these rights directly impact the way cities can approach people struggling with homelessness.
“To the extent that people are facing penalties for living outside when they lack indoor options could be a violation of the eighth amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause,” Bauman said. “In addition to people being moved from their outdoor homes, their tents or other belongings are taken; that implicates property rights that are protected under the Fourth Amendment.”
She argues, however, there may be even bigger things to consider beyond legal rights.
“Unless there is housing available to people, and there isn’t and that’s why we see people living in outdoor encampments, those people who are in one outdoor location will go to other outdoor locations,” Bauman said.
She says overall the homelessness problem stems from lack of affordable housing combined with stagnant wages, especially in fast-growing cities like Nashville.
Nashville’s minimum wage is $7.25, which is the same as federal minimum wage. For someone working full time, that amounts to $1,160 per month before taxes. That’s well below the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Nashville, which is currently $1,680 according to apartmentlist.com.
“Today in this country there’s not a single location, not one location in the entire United States where someone working full time, earning the federal minimum wage can afford the area market rent for a one-bedroom apartment,” Bauman said.
Even though the solution is complex, Bauman says it all starts with good policy.
“Not responsive to complaints about visible homelessness, instead be responsive to addressing the causes of homelessness and providing people safe, stable places where they can be until they’re able to be permanently housed,” Bauman said.