Photo Credit: Open Table Nashville
Published July 30, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
A Davidson County group that serves the local homeless is speaking out against the city’s decision to open a homeless shelter in an empty jail, saying it is traumatic for those who have to go there.
After a number of COVID-19 cases were found at the Nashville Rescue Mission, the city opened a temporary shelter for those who were currently experiencing homelessness.
The shelter, which opened on July 21, is located in the Metro Detention Center at 5113 Harding Place. The shelter is set up in a dorm style and has separate areas for men and women.
According to Karla West, a spokesperson for the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, the jail was closed in December 2020 and does not currently house any inmates.
“When we took it over, we consolidated all the inmates there into our existing jails and closed that prison down,” West said. “It’s not being used right now as a jail facility under the sheriff’s office purview.”
The jail has been used off and on as needed. When a plumbing issue arose at the county’s female facility, the jail was used for the women to shower. They also housed about 40 inmates there for a month in February to provide heat during extremely cold weather.
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Open Table Nashville is a local advocacy group that works with individuals to help them break the cycle of poverty. The group is asking Metro Nashville leaders to find a new location for these individuals.
“For about three years, we have continually spoken out against the use of any current or former jail to shelter unhoused individuals,” said India Pungarcher, outreach specialist for Nashville Open Table. “We refuse to accept that a jail, or a location that emulates a jail, is ever an appropriate sheltering option.”
After the decision to open the facility was made – without any input from community members, according to Pungarcher – the organization voiced its concern to leaders about the use of a jail as a shelter.
In response to those concerns, Vice Mayor Jim Schulman called an emergency meeting on Tuesday and met with representatives from Open Table Nashville, along with the Department of Health, OEM, and Metro Homeless Impact Division.
Pungarcher explained why they felt the facility was not an appropriate location to house these individuals.
“There are people who tell us they hear if they go to the mission and test positive for COVID they’re going to go to a jail facility,” she said. “There are folks who’ve told us about the trauma associated with being in jail or in a setting that reminds them of jail, and we don’t want to remind them of that.”
The group made a similar argument when the city opened the old Harding Place jail as a shelter in the winter.
Joseph Pleasant, spokesperson for the Office of Emergency Management, says the shelter is a temporary solution, but released a statement on Thursday saying they currently had no plans to relocate it.
According to Pleasant, the facility requires prior approval and functions much like the cold weather shelter at the Nashville Fairgrounds.
Originally, Metro Nashville Services provided shelter at local hotels, but this proved to be an issue. It was difficult to monitor those who had tested positive for COVID-19 and to deliver meals, and hotels were reporting damage done to their rooms.
There are currently 21 people needing housing who have tested positive and another 37 who have been in close contact with a positive individual, as of Wednesday.
Pleasant reminds people that staying at the jail shelter is optional, but warns that once people leave, they are unable to return due to health regulations.
About the Author:
Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative
Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com