Neighbors look for solutions to church-based homeless camp

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 7:00pm

Some of the tents pitched on the grounds of Green Street Curch of Christ, which lies between Hermitage Avenue and Interstate 24 (Michael W. Bunch/SouthComm)


Ministry — for a church, it’s an important aspect of practicing faith as well as serving the community. It comes in various forms — feeding the hungry, providing clothing to those in need, sheltering the homeless.

But what happens when a church’s dedication to giving out help in a specific way drives it headlong into a collision with city zoning ordinances? That’s the question bubbling up under what, on the surface, is a simple zoning issue involving the Green Street Church of Christ off Hermitage

Since early spring, the church has allowed homeless individuals to camp in the churchyard, pitching tents on the lawn. In late spring, the Metro Department of Codes and Building Safety notified the church that zoning regulations prevented such camping, but leaders of the church decided their mission, serving the poor, took precedence.

After a while, that form of civil disobedience drew an abatement letter from Metro Codes and a hearing date in environmental court. Earlier this month, that hearing was postponed to Jan. 9. Now, with the city zoning ordinances not likely to change before then, it appears the parties may be at an impasse.

Tripp Hunt, attorney for the church, says that short of an agreement his client is willing to take the issue to federal court on a claim that allowing the tents for the homeless is a part of its mission as a church and protected by the First Amendment rights.

“They feel it is their duty under the Bible to allow homeless people to stay on their property and to minister unto them,” said Hunt. He also stated that his client will not accept an agreement that forces the relocation of the homeless camp.

On another side of the argument is Bobby Joslin, the well-established owner of Joslin & Sons Signs — and the church’s neighbor — who owns about a half-dozen properties on the street, including on both sides of the church.

“They feel like they’re doing God’s work, and I commend them for that,” Joslin said. “The bottom line is you just cannot decide to have a campsite anywhere you decide to put it.”

Joslin calls the camp an eyesore and a threat to property values in the surrounding area, which is zoned industrial. Joslin likened the issue to challenges he faces over zoning every day with his sign business. If a church wanted him to put up a sign against zoning regulations, “I wouldn’t say, ‘Well we’re going to put up a sign anyway because we’re a church and you’re violating our First Amendment rights.’ I would have to abide by the local zoning for that property.”

At-Large Councilwoman Megan Barry has previously met with both sides on the issue trying to reach consensus.

“You’ve got people of goodwill on both sides of the issue,” Barry said. “You’ve got a church community that believes in doing outreach for the homeless, and you have business owners who understand that the value of their property is impacted when you have a homeless tent camp next door. The ideal [outcome] is to work through to a solution where both sides can ultimately get what they want. Getting there is our challenge.”

For now, headed toward the scheduled January court hearing and the threat of a federal lawsuit, it appears that challenge won’t be met.


39 Comments on this post:

By: TITAN1 on 11/28/12 at 10:15

I was a member of this church back in the 80s. Went to a reunion there a couple years ago. I don't know anything about this situation other than what I see and read. I can see both sides, but there are zoning laws.

By: yogiman on 11/29/12 at 12:17

Rules are rules. If you aren't going to follow them, why have them? I'm sure there is nearby sites where the tents could be 'pitched' for the churches' convenience.

By: Rasputin72 on 11/29/12 at 2:43

As the 47% grows to 49 and then 50% and beyond these homeless campsites will spring up almost anywhere. The only answer is to continue to raise taxes on the productive class in order to give these people a hotel room and a Continental breakfast before they begin to sell their newspapers or their public nuisance.

By: donsan on 11/29/12 at 7:43

It seems like churches and ministers think they are beyond the law. (just like poitians I guess).

By: BigPapa on 11/29/12 at 8:10

Maybe the church members and minister could take the wretched souls home and let them camp out at their house?

By: on 11/29/12 at 8:16

The question is really why aren't more churches doing the same thing? They should ALL be trying to help the needy. The Room in the Inn is a wonderful program to give the homeless a place to stay (at least durign the winter), but not all churches participate. Of course, not all homeless would want to spend the night in a church.

Comparing people who are in desperate need to commercial signs is not logical.

By: Captain Nemo on 11/29/12 at 8:35

For those that are not familiar with Rasputin, he claims to be richer than God and the rest of us are lower class.

By: Captain Nemo on 11/29/12 at 8:37

BigPapa I think you have a good point and the community as a whole needs to get behind the church and help. There needs to be places all over the county to take in the needed.

By: danny henry on 11/29/12 at 9:06

with all the vacant goverment buildings
it seems to puzzle me why can't the states
step in and give a little bit of help
i am sure that the people would be more than willing to pitch in and help
the state has no use for the buildings and they are vacant anyway
all that would have to be done is to hire a guard or 2 to keep things quite
if any problems then they move out but a lot of the problems would be minor i am sure

By: Rasputin72 on 11/29/12 at 9:37

NEMO.......thinks everyone who pays more than 15,000 dollars a year in federsl income tax. Is "richer than God"

By: FCappas on 11/29/12 at 9:43

That is definitely a codes violation – no exceptions. Otherwise why have laws and regulations? I commend the church for wanting to help them. Church personnel, if you want to help them even more let them stay inside the church building – hey they will stay warm, have water, and a bathroom. You could even put them to work maintaining the church inside and out! You may want to check with Metro Codes and the Nashville Fire Department first to check on the maximum capacity of the building.

By: Jughead on 11/29/12 at 9:54

I hate bums and those who pander to them. Most bums drank themselves to homelessness. Let them live under a cold bridge.

By: Loner on 11/29/12 at 10:00

From the Up For Debate board:

By: Loner on 11/29/12 at 8:57

I Googled around and discovered a few things...the pastor at the Green Road church, Rev. Jim Atwood, wears a couple of hats...he's not just a pastor, he's a real estate and software man.

According to this source, Pastor Jim is also: "1. Certified residential real estate appraiser 2. Approved instructor for the Appraisal Institute 3. Approved instructor for CompCruncher software."


The plot thickens and Atwood playing property value games with Joslin? Is this a payback deal? Is the "homeless camp" a smokescreen for more ulterior motives?

I do not trust holy-men, nor realtors...a holy-man/realtor is automatically under suspicion in my book.

There is more to this story than meets the eye...the NCP needs to dig deeper to find the real reasons for this there bad blood between Atwood and Joslin?

By: TITAN1 on 11/29/12 at 10:26

Jughead, I don't think God agrees with you. True, there are many who brought it upon themselves, but does that mean we forget about them and toss them away like they are garbage? God will work this situation out because many have prayed about it. We all can help the needy in our own way whether it be by giving to charities that support the homeless or helping them out with a job (for those who can work) or helping them find a place to live.

By: pipecarver on 11/29/12 at 10:57

Here's an alternate solution: Since we have a homeless problem, and our solutions are not working, should we try a different approach? Property owners could convert one of their buildings to a thrift store. The merchandise would come from tax-deductable donations (similar to Goodwill). Homeless individuals could run the business. Build a few small bedrooms in the back room, with a shared bathroom. Only those willing to work for the store would be allowed to reside there. Citizens and building supply companies can donate their time and materials to remodel the building, thus giving them a tax deduction. The revenue generated by the thrift store can cover the over head, and hopefully food. If not, allow for food donations. The homeless would be allowed to pull a few donated articles of clothing to dress appropriately while working. The book keeping could be done by local university accounting students in exchange for a tuition break; with a university instructor donating their time to give real-world, non-profit coop experience to students. The building's owner could have an ongoing 501c Non-Profit Deduction on his/her taxes; thus making the building's occupancy rate 100-percent. This eliminates vacancy rates for the building. Attorneys cost money, and our political leaders have failed to resolve the homeless problems, thus far. As a community, we are fully capable of fixing the problem ourselves. Focusing on non-traditional solutions might help.

By: Jughead on 11/29/12 at 11:19

@Titan: Glad you are the self-anointed spokesman for God. However, I believe differently--God would kick their bum butts to the curb for wasting the divine opportunity given to them. Free will, no?

Screw bums. I am sick of them and their crime, filth, begging, and urinating in public. Then, holier-than-thou nimrods preach to me? Don't waste your breath. I'll donate to the humane shelter to save a beast that did not author its own demise.

God would like that.

By: Rasputin72 on 11/29/12 at 2:03

Hip!,Hip! Hooray for Jughead!

By: Rat-L-Trap on 11/29/12 at 4:13

If the church wants to care for the homeless, then they should bring them into their building where they have hot and cold running water, heat and air-conditioning, restrooms, etc. rather than keeping them out in the yard like dogs without minimum health and sanitation facilities.

If these homeless people in this setting were dogs, then animal control, the ASPCA and PETA would be marching and demanding better conditions.

The church should apply for and obtain a building and use permit as required by law, provide basic facilities and meet the minimum standards for health, safety and sanitation as required by state and local laws for their well being and the health and safety of the community.

The Bible also says that Christians should submit to human authority.

By: ancienthighway on 11/29/12 at 4:33

Mention a homeless person and the bum, hobo stereotype pops into mind. You can't convince me that many of the homeless people today fit that stereotype. Too many have people lost their jobs, couldn't afford catastrophic health insurance, and lost everything to include their homes. The sad thing is that jobs were lost because those with the money that decided they don't have enough shipped the jobs overseas to the lowest bidder.

Yet, let's kick them when they are down and make sure they never get up again. Let's take away the little that they receive now from the government, make sure they don't have a place to pitch a tent or a cardboard box to call their own.

If you truly want the government to spend less money of welfare programs, then give those that want a job that gives them a chance to support themselves.

By: TITAN1 on 11/29/12 at 9:51

Jughead, stop being foolish and saying stupid things. You just proved you don't know the first thing about what the Bible says. And having rasp/rump/richgoose/frankbrown applaud you really discredits anything you say.

By: BigPapa on 11/30/12 at 11:02

The idea that these bums are just normal people that hit a bad patch is ridiculous. 99% have sever A&D issues and/or mental health disorders that would have them confined to a mental health facility in a more civilized time. We have "freed" them to live on the streets like stray dogs.

By: Jughead on 11/30/12 at 11:28

Don't coddle drug addicts and chronic alcoholics. Let them die by their own sword. Useless bums.

Now, the mentals are a different story.

By: ancienthighway on 11/30/12 at 12:20

I can accept that many of the homeless are addicts. Of those the you suggest have mental disorders, how many fell through the cracks because family turned them out or insurance wasn't available to pay for treatment.

Can you accept that the decisions of the Federal government and big business have put the nation into an economic tailspin that it's still struggling to recover from? A result is lost jobs. No jobs means no income to make house payments, and the banks step in and foreclose. Nothing ridiculous about that.

By: Jughead on 11/30/12 at 12:49

"Big business" is what provides jobs. The Federal gov't and labor unions have destroyed the American work ethic by fostering entitlement---and demands that productive people pay for it. Why do you think manufacturing has left the US?

Brianwashed liberal nimrods. China is looking better and better each day--people who work hard and love capitalism.

By: ancienthighway on 11/30/12 at 1:32

Manufacturing began leaving the US well before the government put stringent regulations in place to protect the employee and environment. The workers still wanted the work, but they were pushed out be sweat shop cheap unregulated labor that increased the bottom line of the company. Most were lucky at that time because other jobs were still available. Any one losing a manufacturing job now won't be so lucky.

A little more current is the exodus of white collar jobs, especially in service support and IT. Even though this nation has hundreds of candidates for every opening, the job is outsourced. My wife recently applied for a specialized IT position here in Nashville. She is fully qualified. During the process that one position was lumped together with three other highly specialized positions, at a salary well below market value for any single portion. I fully expect that once enough time has passed with the position being empty, it will be split back up and outsourced at an even greater savings divided three or four ways. Three or four Americans wanting to work as still left on the public teat.

Or let's take the Big Box stores. Wal-Mart hires predominantly part time employees and bare bones wages without benefits. It might be enough to supplement social security, pension, and medicare for the retired workforce, but for the middle aged divorced mother whose husband won't keep child support and alimony payments on time, you know the Joe Deadbeat you claim is on public support, she struggles to make ends meet. She can't get a better job because 1) hubby didn't want her working so she didn't, and 2) she's not qualified for anything better than the barely minimum wage job she has already. If she's lucky, she's one paycheck away from homeless.

People want to work in this country. Businesses do in fact provide jobs, but who exactly are they providing the jobs for?

By: BigPapa on 11/30/12 at 2:27

I dont accept that answer at all.
Let me tell you what happens:
1) person does indeed fall on hard times
2) person borrows money from family, does not pay it back
3) person moves in with many family members; repeatedly steals from them and/or causes enough drama to cause the family to kick them out.
4) person repeats same mistakes with multiple sets of friends.
5) turns to social services agencies; repeats mistakes from above yet again
6) person either can't work due to mental health or gets fired due to drug or alcohol abuse.
7) does some time in jail
8) ends up on the street because the have exhausted all resources due to their own behavior.

Its not like the first thing a normal person does is lose their job and them pack the family into the station wagon and live in a tent. Thats not sane or rational.

By: Jughead on 11/30/12 at 2:49

@ancient: Wrong, bubba. Jobs left when labor unions demanded premium pay for apathetic and low-quality work. And, those unions were supported almost entirely by socialists in the Justice Department.

It is no surprise the productive people said screw the US and moved manufacturing elsewhere. And, Obamacare is gonna wreak havoc.

On to China. There must be a place where people work hard and do not expect the gov't to fund their drug addictions and housing.

By: BigPapa on 11/30/12 at 3:30

Jobs left when labor unions demanded premium pay for apathetic and low-quality work. And, those unions were supported almost entirely by socialists in the Justice Department.

Yep. US workers over valued their worth. They thought that no body else could do what they do, and BAM those factories went to Mx, Japan, and China and the quality improved and the product was cheaper.

By: ancienthighway on 11/30/12 at 6:17

There are a number of Right to Work states, to include Tennessee, that these manufacturing jobs could move to, yet these manufacturing jobs aren't moving back to those states. There's more to it than just unions. Unions don't cause apathetic attitudes and low quality work, middle management allows it. Unions on the other had did force middle management to document poor performance prior to termination, but middle management was too apathetic to do so.

By: whitegravy on 12/1/12 at 5:05

ON CHURCH SQUATTERS:all the churches ive ever seen that minister to the homeless let them at least come into the church now and then and wash- up, and address their spiritual condition,WHATS REALLY GOIN ON??????TO JUGHEAD AND RASPUTIN, it is not my money or intellegence or character or economic status etc. that allows us to live(lest any man should boast). but GODS GRACE ARE before you guys get anymore PUFFED-UP about your lives, remember GOD has a PIN......try saying something POSITVE NOW AND THEN instead of belitleing poor people

By: Rasputin72 on 12/1/12 at 7:22

Whitegravy.........This is tough world. From the time you leave the womb it is survival of the fittest. Some of the poor are poor because of genetics,some are poor because they made bad decisions and others are poor because they satisfied with being poor.

I battle everyday to keep from being poor becsuse being poor is so repugnant.

I have contributed millions and millions of dollars through our federal income tax system that may or may or may not have been used to allow you to use the library computer.

I feel that I have more than my share to help the poor.

By: TITAN1 on 12/1/12 at 2:47

Millions? Yeah right.

By: Rasputin72 on 12/1/12 at 10:31

More than a man making 20.00 an hour can comprehend!!

By: TharonChandler on 12/2/12 at 11:42

Maybe they could put some Homeless in to some of those big giant empty houses in East memphis

By: yucchhii on 12/14/12 at 10:57

Hey I said before, JUGHEAD is a GOOD name for you..your head is an EMPTY JUG!! Normally, I don't want to see anyone be homeless except politicians, but there's an exception to that...people like YOU!! YOU NEED TO WIND UP "HOMELESS". Again you STEREOTYPE!! You say MOST homeless dring themselves into their situation. You need to attend some AA and/or some NA meetings and listen to some of those who speak. These people MOST times are candid and are truthful as to their situations. Tobad your skull is full of dust and cement!! Also, Not ALL homeless are addicts. Some had situations that were BEYOND their control. They may have seen ahead of time that HOMELESSNESS was about to hit them and had nothing they could do about it!! THAT is what I hope happens to you!!! You obviously think it WON'T happen to you...let me tell you this: Be sure to lose that attitude when you wind up at the Nashville rescue mission, you COULD wind up DEAD if you don't!! That is a cold hard REALITY!!!

By: yucchhii on 12/14/12 at 11:06

hey Tharon Chandler...why east memphis? Why not east NASHVILLE? Whats the matter, afraid the homeless will mug you? I am willing to bet that if people like you and JUGHEAD were to stand around on a corner where some of the homeless gather and identify ALL who are homeless, you wouldn't get HALF of them out there? I'd be willing to BET ON THAT!! All you would do is pick out those who are dressed raggetty. There are many who don't dress that way, who are actually TRYING to get something going on in their lives and know where to go to get decent clothes. So, do you REALLY think you can find all the homeless? How good are you at playing "Where's Waldo"? Bet you'd be to scared to meet up with me and hang out for about 30 mins to pick out some people...just 30 mins or are you to busy cleaning your sock drawer?

By: yucchhii on 12/14/12 at 11:16

People need to stop picking on the homeless and leave them alone. If someone breaks into your house, have them arrested. If someone DOES break into your house, you may be surprised to find that person(s) may not even BE homeless. Who cares about ZONING Laws when it comes to "HUMAN NEEDS" the FIRST human need is "SURVIVAL" Hello, I'm talking to the HEARTLESS!! Bear in mind something very important...if you are standing in line for something that is benificial to you and the homeless, and you move to be in front of the homeless beacuse you don't give a dam about'd be LUCKY if I am NOT the one running the situation that your there for. If I were to see you doing that, I'd bring all of the reasons why you are there to the OTHER end of that line and tell all the people to do an ABOUT FACE!! That would put YOU at the "END" of the line!! bet you wouldn't like that..HUH? As for ZONING laws...guess what, GODS LAWS OVER RIDE ALL "MANS" LAWS!!! Don't like it? TALK TO GOD ABOUT IT!!!

By: yucchhii on 12/14/12 at 11:24

Hey RESPUTIN 72: NO ONE will ever do MORE than their share to help the less fortunate!! Regardless of their situation. If they're out there, then you should have it in your HEART to do what you can WHEN you can. You don't always have to give $$$ to be of help. Go some place like a church the serves the homeless and ask to help as a vollunteer. There's a church on Nolensville rd on the corner of Morton ave called "Connection Point" that does overnights for homeless in the auditorium in the back twice a week on wednesdays and saturdays. Call them and ask to help. Don't act like what you have done is enough to get everybody off the streets. So long as we have CRIMINALS in public offices, we will have HOMELESS!!!

By: yucchhii on 12/14/12 at 11:40

Hey BIG PAPA: Since when did quality improve after companies moved to japan and/or China? Point that out to me as I fail to find any quality in products made in ASIA!! They are made CHEAPLY both quality wise and financually!!