Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tent City homeless camp is destroyed by flooding

Homeless people flee to dry refuges By Bob Smietana • THE TENNESSEAN • May 5, 2010 Tent City is gone. The embattled homeless encampment, just off of Hermitage Avenue, which has escaped several shutdown notices from Metro police, was washed away by the weekend's flooding. About 120 people were evacuated from the camp on Sunday, with the help of volunteers from local churches. They left their few possessions behind. Most escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs. Reginald "Vegas" Watson, 45, a member of the residents council that helped organize Tent City, said the camp is uninhabitable. The property is covered with diesel fuel from a nearby ruptured storage tank and waste from overturned portable toilets. "We're not going back," he said. "It's not a fit place for people to live." Watson and about 70 other residents are staying at a Red Cross shelter setup at Lipscomb University. Others are at Green Street Church of Christ and Woodbine Cumberland Presbyterian Church and other local shelters, or are staying in hotels or with friends. A group of volunteers from local churches and homeless advocates are looking for a new temporary site for Tent City before the emergency shelters close down. "The folks will literally have no place to go," Watson said. Plans had been in the works to close the camp by the fall, said Clifton Harris of the Metro Homelessness Commission. The long-term plan is to get Tent City residents into a Housing First program, where they have a permanent place to live and case management services. "That's the permanent solution," Harris said, "but we also need a temporary solution." Harris said that he and volunteers such as Doug Sanders from Otter Creek Church of Christ are looking for one or two acres for the new Tent City. The site has to be along a bus line, and can't be close to a school or day care. Having a water meter on the site would help as well, Sanders said. "We don't need much beyond water," Sanders said. "We can bring in portable toilets and Dumpsters." Otter Creek Church and other local congregations are trying to collect tents, sleeping bags and other supplies for Tent City residents. "We're trying to give them a place to start over,'' he said. Patricia Coronado, a 23-year-old who lived at the homeless camp, said she will not go to the new location. "I won't go back to living in a tent," she said, but she doesn't know what she's going to do. Watson said that former Tent City residents are nervous and worried about the future. For now, he and other members of the residents council are trying to keep in touch by cell phone with Tent City residents who are scattered at various shelters. But he believes things will work out, pointing to the biblical story of the flood. "God sent that flood to cleanse things and to make way for something better," he said. "I'm hoping for something better."

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