Community meeting gets heated over homeless village

Artist's rendering of the planned micro home community. (WSMV)

The quiet green parcel of land in front of the Glencliff United Methodist Church will soon be home to 22 tiny houses designed for Nashville's most vulnerable homeless population.

The non-profit Open Table Nashville is behind the project. Their mission is "to provide a dignified, loving, and hospitable bridge housing community for our most vulnerable friends experiencing homelessness in Nashville in an effort to meet each individual’s most basic needs so that he or she is empowered to focus on healing and permanent supportive housing."

The first phase would include 10 homes. The organization enacted the Religious Land Use Act to get the property. It essentially allows religious organizations to use of their properties to as they please to fulfill their mission.

The project is being met with strong opposition from some people in the community who are raising concerns about security.

"It disturbs me that we have a homeless village that Open Table is wanting to open up right down the street," said Sherry McCall, the president of the Glencliff Neighborhood Association. "Some of the people that they want to put in that village will be felons. They have said so. They don't seem to think that there needs to be any police presence and we think that there should be police presence and security. It's in the middle of a residential neighborhood," she stated.

Metro Councilman Mike Freeman lives in the neighborhood and represents District 16.

"Does homeless equal crime? Some will say yes. Some will say no," Freeman said. "It's unfortunate that the two suspects in these last two vicious attacks were perceived to be homeless. So I can understand why the community is so upset about that aspect of it. Especially since open Table has said that they will target homeless individuals who have past felony convictions."

While Freeman says Open Table will have lighting and security patrols, some in the neighborhood are asking for Metro Police to have a presence in the plan.

"This a tough one because we don't get a choice," Freeman said. "We don't have a vote in this situation. Because they enacted Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, that took Metro out of the equation, and some may say that they've exploited that law. I don't know."

Freeman says Open Table has plans in place for security check-ins but opponents want Metro police involved.

"We are certain there will be more homeless traffic in the neighborhood, and that's not to cast a dispersion on the homeless,” said Bill Durkin, vice-president of the Glencliff Neighborhood Association. "But clearly, this gentleman has problems," he added, referring to the suspected Belmont rapist who was found hiding under a Glencliff home.

"Clearly we've had numerous occasions in the last few weeks of homeless individuals committing violent crimes. We don't want that to increase here and we think having the police department here as part of the tiny home village plan is going to be one way to offset that,” Durkin said.

Roger Freeman lives a block away from the proposed site and supports it.

"When I first heard about it, I was like, finally somebody's stepping up and taking care of it," Roger Freeman said. "This is an excellent example of taking care of people that need housing, and not everyone everyone of them is going to be a criminal. They're trying to make it seem like all homeless people are a plague to society."

Roger Freeman said he is concerned that some of his neighbors are "hard-hearted."

Open Table's founders would not go on camera with Channel 4 due to other commitments. Ingrid McIntyre said in a statement for Open Table:It's unfortunate that people experiencing homelessness get labeled "criminal" because of their housing status and lack of resources. This is exactly the stigma we are trying to break.There will be a community meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Arlington United Methodist Church to discuss community concerns.

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