Saturday, August 7, 2010

Metro Nashville police beef up homeless patrols

Complaints bring more police to park By Nicole Young • THE TENNESSEAN • August 7, 2010 Downtown residents and business owners frustrated with the homeless hanging around Church Street Park complained to the mayor's office, prompting police to bring in officers from other parts of the city to help with patrols. The e-mails, many from people who expressed disgust at seeing the homeless sleeping on park benches, washing their clothes in public fountains and using street corners as toilets, prompted the mayor's office to ask for the extra patrols. "My assumption is that we are the benefactors of the closure of Tent City," said Bob Watson, a Nashville architect and five-year resident of The Cumberland downtown. "The situation has improved, but I'm concerned that time will go by and we'll be forgotten because we're not making any noise right now." Resident RJ Stillwell, also of The Cumberland, shares Watson's concern. "We need to be looking at a concerted effort between everyone to find solutions for the homeless, not just temporary fixes,'' said Stillwell, a seven-year Nashville resident. Before the May flood washed away the homeless encampment called Tent City, members of the Metro Key Alliance, an arm of the Metro Homelessness Commission which is working is to end homelessness, already had begun searching for a permanent housing solution. Until one emerges, Metro police say they will increase their presence along Church Street. All six of the city's precincts are sending teams downtown to help, Metro police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford said. There were more than enough downtown officers to handle the patrols, Central Precinct Commander Damian Huggins said, but officials decided to bring in additional units to show an increased presence. "The continuous shift change of officers rotating in and out can create an even greater appearance of officer presence, more so than the same number on fixed post spread out in any given area,'' Huggins said. The mayor's office asked for the extra patrols after the e-mails began to circulate in mid-July, spokeswoman Janel Lacy said. Many included comments from multiple residents and business owners. "Guests and visitors complain constantly about being harassed," Ed Mroz, general manager of the Sheraton Nashville Downtown, wrote in one e-mail. "I have been forced to hire staff to do nothing but prevent homeless people from entering the facility, using the restrooms, sleep in our fire escapes and interface with our out-of-town visitors." Mroz said the situation has improved, but it isn't resolved. "They are still here. I know they are working on it, and I'm very supportive of them, but we would like to see a solution sooner rather than later. "We have all of this investment in downtown, in trying to bring people to Nashville, but people won't feel comfortable here if they are always fighting the homeless. This will be a key component of making sure people return," Mroz said. On Friday afternoon, George Boone, 68, shared a shaded bench in Church Street Park with two other homeless men. Three police officers stood on the opposite street corner. "I've heard about the complaints that some of the residents here have and I agree with some of them,'' said Boone, who has lived on the streets of Nashville for 10 years. "Some people do stupid things down here that reflect on all of us. It's pretty bad when people can't sit out here on the benches and enjoy the park without getting begged for money. They can get pretty aggressive too when they don't get it.''

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