Police push courts to help crack down on homeless

Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 11:45pm
Homelessness.jpg

In early July, a stream of emails began to flow through circles of downtown residents and businesses and, then, into the Mayor’s Office and the police department’s Central Precinct. The emails uniformly expressed concern that the downtown homeless population had grown, and that bad elements within it lowered the quality of life of the neighborhood, specifically at Church Street Park, a public space in front of the main library that at times enjoys a large presence of homeless people.

Metro police say they have significantly increased their patrols of the park and its surrounding area this year over last, but it doesn’t end there. The department and the legal powers that be are also looking to strengthen their own enforcement powers of Metro ordinances with regard to homelessness.

Ed Mroz, general manager of the Sheraton Nashville Downtown, wrote in an email that the situation worsened around the first part of July — the same time Metro closed a relocated Tent City in Antioch — causing hotel guests to complain.

“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 wrote in an email obtained by The City Paper, adding that the “onslaught” of homeless people on Capitol Boulevard next to the park is costing his business revenue and, in turn, costing the city taxes.

Carolyn Ridley wrote that she was trying to sell a condo at The Cumberland on Church Street, but that a potential buyer refused to even go into the building to view the condo after seeing the homeless people in the park.

In an emailed response, Central Precinct Cmdr. Damian Huggins points out that events such as the Country Music Association festival and even the Bonnaroo Music Festival each year bring a greater number of vagrants to downtown Nashville, and many linger long after the events.

The May flood itself displaced the homeless population of Tent City, and downtown residents fear many of those from the homeless encampment have migrated to Church Street Park.

Jail time for unpaid fines

Metro officers have increased their community contacts in the immediate area surrounding the park by 225 percent over the same period last year, Huggins wrote in one email, greatly increasing the number of business checks, too.

Six homeless people contacted by The City Paper have reported observing a significant increase in citations handed out by police at Church Street Park.

But there are limits to what legal recourse police have in dealing with the homeless population. When officers write citations for violating Metro ordinances, a civil offense rather than criminal, the penalty usually results in a fine, which often goes uncollected from a homeless individual who may be unable to pay it. Metro ordinance citations — sometimes referred to as “green tickets” — are placed on the Environmental Court docket of the General Sessions Court. Metro officers also have the discretion of issuing state statute citations in more serious cases, which can carry a 30-day jail stay.

Metro Public Defender Dawn Deaner, whose office provides counsel for some indigent individuals in court on state violations, told The City Paper many don’t show up in court for a fine they can’t afford to pay.

“They don’t have any money to pay a fine,” she said, “So if you get a green ticket and the only thing that can happen to you is a $50 fine, and you know you can’t pay a $50 fine, why bother going to court?”

The police department is working with the General Sessions Court and the Metro Department of Law to enforce a contempt of court charge on those who violate Metro ordinances but choose not to show up for their court date or pay a fine. In his emailed response to the concerned Central Precinct residents, Huggins said the police department continues to work with Metro Legal and the Homelessness Commission to keep chronic offenders in custody longer, as well as to find them treatment and more long-term solutions.

“We are also very near being able to add some teeth to some ordinance issues that in the past have only resulted in basically warnings,” Huggins said.

Police spokesman Don Aaron said there have been discussions about holding those who don’t show up for court in contempt, meaning a jail stay. As well, according to Deaner, police are pushing for the use of “body attachments,” orders to jail someone who missed a court date and failed to pay a fine.

But the legal system can only offer a short-term localized stopgap to the chronic homelessness problem.

As the police commander indicated in his email and the public defender acknowledged, without solutions to affordable housing, better mental illness treatment programs and better opportunities for the homeless, there will be a significant homeless presence in Nashville, and specifically in downtown public spaces.

Filed under: City News

20 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 8/23/10 at 3:10

Can you imagine in your wildest dreams that the homeless and worthless were able to stop the growth of the downtown business and residential area cold in it's tracks.

By: robbchadwick on 8/23/10 at 6:58

I try very hard to be compassionate when it comes these people; and I am compassionate for the truly "homeless" ... people who have recently lost their income and ability to pay their rent, etc.

However, most of the individuals who hang around the downtown area and create annoyance (and even terror at times) for downtown residents, visitors & business owners do not fall into this group. All the talk about affordable housing and other "needed" social programs is simply not what these people want. You could offer 90% of them a home, a job or anything else those who advocate for these people suggest; and it really would not make any difference. They simply want to live on the street, be dirty, stay drunk & drugged and annoy people, claiming it is their right to do so. They don't want to assimilate into society and be like the rest of us.

That's the bottom line.

By: nash615 on 8/23/10 at 8:11

Glad to see there's so much love for our fellow man being expressed here. So much for the Christian mindset being first and foremost in the Bible Belt.

By: TharonChandler on 8/23/10 at 9:54

Jailing, and/ or fining 'the homeless' is Organized Crime as in the old 'debtors prisons' that were outlawed several generations ago. Most any person whom could withstand hanging out at the park near church street should also be capable of rather keeping their own domocile (if and when allowed by political authorities), as every previous generation has afforded to any type of persons existing now.

By: robbchadwick on 8/23/10 at 10:09

You do make one excellent point. If they put nearly as much effort into work as they do begging and tormenting, they would be much more productive and could see the results of their efforts.

Again, I'm all about helping those who help themselves; but no one provides me with a home or anything else. I work for it ... and not by begging absolute strangers for anything ... not to mention all the other indecent acts taxpayers are forced to witness on their behalf.

By: yucchhii on 8/23/10 at 11:18

TO: Robbchadwick. While most of what you say "CAN" be true. Still you are making ALL homeless look like they don't want anything in their lives! Maybe you meant to word your comments in a way that that would convey that differently, I don't know. But as I read your comment, that is the impression I get. Allow me to say this...I am HOMELESS! Now possibly by you reading how I make my word selections here may surprise some people, because, YES, there ARE SOME out there that think ALL homeless are bums and stupid and can't read. Well THEY have a second thing comming! You will NOT know me or recocnize me because I seldom come to the church street park. Ocassionally, I may be seen in the vicinty as I maybe passing by and sometimes stop to talk to someone I know there. I do agree however that there ARE some of those homeless that ARE BUMS and have NO ambition and have given up on life. There are also Mentally challenged and physically challenged who the city has turned their back on and need to provide a place for them where they can recieve care 24/7. BUT do you see the city doing anything about that? Of course NOT! Mayor Karl Dean is ANTI-HOMELESS and is DISENGAGED! In other words, all HE cares about is getting rid of the HOMELESS and if police cause them enough grief, they will move on...TO WHERE? I wish SOMEONE of the city could ANSWER THAT!! "IF" the mayor actually CARED about the homeless, then he would have had various programs implemented to HELP the homeless and give incentives to get co-operation from them as well, BUT, the Mayors little baby (The NEW convention center has to take urgency over that! Also, another point is that, the Nashville Rescue mission is of NO help. The way that place is run makes it very UNDIGNIFIED!! It brings in LITTERALLY MILLIONS of dollars each year (About 10 or 11 million dollars) If you were to go in there and see the conditions of which people have to deal with there, YOU would not want to be there either! They try to fall back on the excuse, "They just don't want to follow the rules", Well, when the rules make NO sense and do NOTHING but hinder you from makeing progress in your life, what are you supposed to do? They do NOTHING to help you and nobody is on the same page, when you ask one person on the staff a question and you are told one thing, then the next staff person will tell you something else different! They LITERALLY try to BREAK your spirit there. SO, there is another reason WHY you have so many MORE homeless OUTDOORS. Many in the winter time would rather take the chance on FREEZING TO DEATH than stay at the mission! Want to know MORE?

By: yucchhii on 8/23/10 at 11:26

To Richgoose, your comment prompted me to say this...The mayor Karl Dean wants to KEEP on sweeping this under the carpet.. BUT, if you KEEP sweeping it all under the carpet, what's going to happen? The dirt is going to pile up and pile up and up and up. When you lay the carpet down what do you see? A mound where you kept piling things up. It gets MORE AND MORE VISIBLE each time. So if all you do is try to get rid of the homeless instead of trying to help the ones who are REALLY trying, then the mound will ONLY get bigger and bigger! What we need is for the people of this city to email the MAYOR and the city council to PRESSURE them to actually DO SOMETING TO HELP THE HOMELESS!! That is the ONLY solution to "Getting rid of the homeless!! As time goes on, more and more people will lose their jobs and income and MORE and MORE families will be hitting the streets! POLITICIANS are PURPOSELY making this around the country WORSE!!

By: yucchhii on 8/23/10 at 11:31

TO NASH 615: Thank you for your comment! Really! SOooooooo many here in the "BIBLE BELT" "CLAIM TO BE CHRISTIAN" BUT so many of rthe "SO CALLED CHRISTIANS are making themselves more a PART OF THE PROBLEM instaed of the solution!! There are a handful of TRUE Christian people who get a bad rap because of those "SHALLOW" ones!!! C'MON PEOPLE, if you "CLAIM" to CARE, then "SHOW IT",.....I DARE YOU!!!

By: robbchadwick on 8/23/10 at 11:34

My comments clearly stated that I have great compassion for people who are homeless through no fault of their own, as long as they focus on improving their lives. That means that they must take the initiative to make their lives better. It's not always easy; but if a person has the sincere desire to find work ... even if it's not what they previously did ... they can do so and with that comes dignity and all the good things of life.

My negative comments were about the individuals who don't try to do anything for themselves. I do understand that sometimes mental illness and addiction issues are involved. I do have a certain sympathy and empathy for those conditions. However, it is also true that most criminals have issues that either stem from childhood and/or mental illness and addiction. Sympathy and empathy only go so far. Once an individual becomes a nuisance or danger to society at large, the immediate focus must be to protect ourselves and keep our environment safe and pleasant.

I truly wish I had the answers for what to do beyond that. I certainly don't; and I'm afraid no one else does either. Nevertheless as a resident of downtown and a taxpayer, I demand safety and the right not to be bothered by people that are out to only annoy me and to destroy the neighborhood I live in.

By: yucchhii on 8/23/10 at 11:34

TO THARON CHANDLER: Politicians ARE ORGANIZED crime leaders! When you think of it, what they are doing to OUR country, WHAT ELSE COULD THEY BE? TERRORISTS? YEAH, THAT TOO!!!

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 8/23/10 at 11:42

If people were more concerned about helping the homeless and others who need help instead of focusing on their elite self-absorbed worlds, the community and the world would be a much better place.

Note to downtown residents: You should not have to endure excessive crime (nor should people who live further from downtown, but homeless people are not criminals simply because they exist and are not decorative enough for you. There are gated communities in Nashville but you are not entitled to put a gate around downtown.

If the Sheraton does not allow non-customers to use its facilities, that is fine. However, I expect that I could walk in and not be noticed (because I am not and do not look homeless), which is selective application of its policies.

Other cities have created "service centers" near downtown where homeless people can stay during the day and have productive things to do, whether it is take showers, wash their clothes, study for their GED or whatever. Often these are funded by downtown businesses or other organizations. Maybe the occupants of expensive condos could chip in also. There

There are multiple ways to address the concerns.

One way is by continuing to complain. Another is for YOU to do something to help. Your choice.

By: yucchhii on 8/23/10 at 11:48

TO ROBBCHADWICK: On your respionse...I don't want you to get me wrong, I completely understand your point. WE all have the right to safety. Whether we have a home or not. Maybe it was I who was misunderstanding your comment and I do apollogise! I do the best I can to do what I have to do to survive...however, I CAN NOT bring myself to ask ANYONE for money on the street. MY efforts to get back on my feet again will involve moving back to my home which is in anther state. A friend of mine has a job ready and waiting for me when I get there. IT is NOT doing what "I" want, BUT, it is a JOB! Plaese understand that I mean no offense to your comment. I do get irritated from time to time from certain ways that others look upon homeless. I do appreciate your respect and compassion. Thank you and from me, God Bless!!!

By: richgoose on 8/23/10 at 1:04

Yucchhii.......Your idea of helping the homeless is money and food and shelter using my money which I sweat bullets and tears to earn.

My idea of help is to extracate all dope,cigarettes,alcohol and have these people in covered stockade far away from the people who support the stockade.

By: political1iam on 8/23/10 at 4:20

There are certain behaviors whether criminal or not that cannot be tolerated in a civilised society!
Walk down Church Street at any hour of the day or night and you will see many of these behaviors! .
The Downtown Library is now the largest homeless shelter in the State.I will not allow my wife or children to go there for fear of harm and insult.
Enabling is not helping homeless individuals!
If it takes stricter enforcement and incarceration to help solve these problems then that is what we elect and pay our city leaders for and so be it.

By: cval on 8/23/10 at 5:51

robbchadwick sounds like typical church going Tennesseans who enjoy a lavish or at least a reasonably good lifestyle. He, like so many others fool themselves into believing they are compassionate and caring as long as the person suffering meets a certain criteria. As I read his post, he basically says that they must be just like him except they have suffered job or financial setbacks and are now in a bad way. How sweet, you are guy. What mularkie!
I was once in a hard way. I was having horrible chest pains due to unstable angina that got so bad I was unable to work. I went to my church, a big money church in Knox-Vegas where I sang in choir and did other volunteer work for the church. They shooed me out the door with no assistance in finding a program I'd be eligible for to get help or anything. Thank God for the VA. I've since had open heart surgery and am disabled and doing fine, in spirit and finances.
I run into homeless guys quite often at the store - parking lot, etc. I always reach in my pocket to help and something more. I take the time to talk to them about their life. I want to make sure they know about the shelters and encourage them to pray to Christ and never give up. I believe Jesus said something about the meek inheriting the earth.
Do the meek belong to the country club or the high profile social clubs called Christian churches? Not hardly. Can't afford to help make those monthly payments on the multi-million dollar mortgage on the church building or for the Pastor's new Mercedes. I wonder, if the churches took all that money wasted on worldly things and spent it on helping homeless and single parents, and elderly, what would Jesus think of us then?
Just think, you who call yourself a compassionate Christian, what if that BUM you chased away from your car because he dared to ask you for some of your hard-earned money that you sweat blood for was really an angel of the Lord? "For many entertain (or don't) angels unawares."

By: robbchadwick on 8/24/10 at 6:42

To yucchhii: Thank you for your last post. I'm glad you understand my meaning a little better. Best of luck to you.

To cval: Now what you said has me on the floor rolling. If there is one person in this world who is definitely NOT religious, it is me. So funny how you turned what I said into a religious crusade; but, of course, one sees that quite often.

By: cyclist30 on 8/29/10 at 10:34

I agree 100% with Nash615, where is the christian attitude/mindset here??? Most of you are referring to homeless as animals, filth and as if they are not even human. You should be completely ashamed of yourself. It sickens me to the depths to read such trash and garbage. My wife and I live right downtown and see homeless people daily and NOT ONCE do I ever say to myself, "wow what a disgrace". I will do what I can, when I can to talk, smile, at least acknowledge them. You never know how bad someone's day be or what they may thinking or feeling and the smile you pass along to them, may just be what keeps them alive one more day. What will help the homeless is for people to help them in any way possible rather than turn you back and stick your chin up at them. It's an absolute disgrace that I open a blog discussing this topic and 98% of the posts are such negative, horrible, inhumane comments. You should all be ashamed of yourself. How about thinking of someone other than yourself sometime.

By: avoidbelmontuni... on 10/6/10 at 1:22

What I would like to see is the solution that was introduced to the Key Alliance back in October put in to place because it made all parties happy. However, if the homeless are housed, then some of these non-profits won't be able to line their pockets the way they've been doing. I'd like to see some MEASURABLE RESULTS from the Key Alliance, especially since the director, Clifton Harris makes over 101k per year. He was almost fired in November-check out the news articles on the internet. As far as Otter Creek goes, Doug Sanders blogs about everything he does; he's merely in it for the glory. He wants to be like Jesus, then he should help people and not get caught instead of broadcasting everything he does like he wants a Scooby snack. The situation could be a lot worse. There are thousands of homeless people who could be doing more damage if they became an angry mob. I, for one, like the idea of their being housed in transitional housing with rules within city limits so they have to follow city codes as well. People will see that folks are taking care of each other. The working homeless will be immediately housed, and can transition out into mainstream society and make room for the next one. Folks with mental health issues and other limitations can be dealt with by the remaining non-profits. Clifton Harris and his "Housing First" with "wraparound services" is a bullshit solution at a snail's pace to drag out the money. He needs to graduate from his ebonics course and stop saying things like "wif" and "bof". He makes enough money, he should know there is no "f" in "with" and "both". Dude, recognize. The public needs to demand measurable results or nothing will change. Peace.

By: SpoonLady on 2/12/11 at 1:10

Spoon Lady

Hey, for those of you who don't know who I am... I'm that crazy lady who plays the spoons downtown. Although some of you might think of me as a wing-nut, or a drug addict (I must be I don't have any teeth), or a beggar (anyone playing music is, at least on the street, right? Or are they only begging if they are homeless?)....

The truth is that THE MISSION DOES NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT HAVE ENOUGH BEDS!!!! Homeless, contrary to popular belief also sometimes have things they value, such as family pictures (yes, homeless people also have FAMILY), instruments, tools for work, etc etc... (Homeless people DO work), and at our downtown mission you are not allowed to bring these things in. You are required to leave it outside the door in the worst neighborhood in Nashville... You want to go to the mission? So, you can't pay your rent because you got laid off and now are you going to leave what little you have to the wolves or are you just going to find a bush somewhere to camp out so you can still feel like you have something? WHAT would you do?

Now, to generalize the "Homeless" like they are a religious group or a skin color is WRONG. Many different kinds of people are homeless. Just because One guy is Chinese doesn't mean he's good at math, not all black folks can dance/jump, and not all homeless people need meds, are drunk, or are on drugs. Sorry, for those folks who feel better about themselves thinking that good people couldn't possibly be on the street, but there is. Again, NOT ALL HOMELESS PEOPLE DRINK or DO DRUGS. When I am playing music on the street I get a lot of people giving me messed up comments about the fact that I have no teeth. I lost my teeth all in one swoop when I was 22. Why don't you idiots go into a battered woman's shelter and start pointing and laughing at all the abused women? Think about it. Are You getting a creepy smile thinking about it? That is what you're doing.

Ok, so now we can assume that all middle aged people with jobs and cars are pill popping doped up college-educated idiots who cannot think for themselves, and so have to go to school to have someone else tell them what they think as they are all doped up on their Xanex?? How ya feel now?

I could go on forever, but I got things to do, and the majority of you guys are too closed minded to think outside of you college-educated tunnel.

By: SpoonLady on 2/12/11 at 1:16

Spoon Lady,

oh yeah, Richgoose, from you comment, I am guessing you are a close cousin to Hitler?