More than a year after plans were put in motion to evict residents of the downtown homeless encampment on the Cumberland River called Tent City, crime for the surrounding areas is actually increasing.
Responding to concerns of downtown residents, Central Precinct Commander Damian Huggins circulated an e-mail to city leaders showing crime rising around Tent City. According to Huggins, crime in the areas around Tent City is up 21 percent over the last year, even though it has declined by 18 percent across the Central Precinct.
What’s more, Huggins said police presence is up 128 percent around Tent City.
“I submit to you that the unlimited occupancy policy and current efforts in Tent city be re-evaluated and reconsidered at the earliest,” Huggins’ email said.
Huggins called attention to a series of sensation incidents involving homeless individuals in and around Tent City. One particularly incendiary incident involved two men attacking each other with a hammer on the Tent City property, according to Huggins.
In general, Huggins said the individuals being arrested by police are chronic offenders, with some having upwards of 200 pubic intoxication arrests.
The increase in criminal incidents has coincided with the Metro Homelessness Commission working diligently to provide direct services to Tent City residents. In the last year, the 25 of the regular 32 residents were found housing by the Homelessness Commission.
The commission’s chairman, Erik Cole, said homeless individuals re-occupied Tent City during the summer months when the weather was warm. Cole said those living in Tent City required direct social work services at a rate higher than the commission could provide them.
“In order for it to improve, long-term, we must support the good work that our police officers are doing by bringing active social work to the situation — meaningful case management, treatment options, and, eventually, housing,” said Cole, who is the District 7 Metro Councilman. “Everyone agrees that a revolving door of arrests, dismissed sentences and return to the streets is ineffective.”
Huggins correspondence was driven in part by an increased number of complaints from area residents, who detailed in letters to Metro leaders the problems they’ve encountered with homeless individuals around Tent City.
Huggins proposed identifying the “permanent” residents of Tent City and gradually finding them transitional housing, while barring other individuals from taking up occupancy at the encampment.
Cole said he was concerned at the continued criminal incidents at the site, but said solutions are complicated. He cautioned against closing Tent City all at once, arguing that another such encampment could easily pop up at another downtown location.
“Over the past year, the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission has been actively working to address the impact of homelessness downtown, and county-wide. But real solutions take time. And they take money,” Cole said. “We recognize that downtown residents face challenges daily and that the situation downtown needs to improve.”