Image Credit: Mike Gabelmann / Flickr
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
The City of Chattanooga has sanctioned a temporary homeless encampment with the stated intent of allowing the “city and its partners to better provide targeted, customized services and programs to help residents secure permanent homes.”
The city-owned encampment, which is operated by the nonprofit Help Right Here, began admitting individuals this past weekend and provides tents, toilets and security while the process is begun to secure permanent housing for them.
The decision to offer this service for the city’s homeless comes on the heels of Chattanooga’s poor record of enforcing city code regarding panhandling, trespassing, loitering and littering.
Revealed in documents received by the Tennessee Conservative in a public records request, despite numerous and ongoing panhandling violations in Chattanooga, there were only two tickets issued from January – June 2021 by law enforcement.
At that time, several police officers spoke anonymously with the Tennessee Conservative stating that they want to enforce the City’s panhandling ordinance, but they claim they have been given specific instructions not to enforce the law. However, the Communications Coordinator for the Chattanooga Police Department denied the officer’s claims.
Other reports indicate that Law enforcement treats criminal trespassing on private property as a minor infraction if it’s addressed at all, resulting in repeated offenses by many of the same individuals.
There are also existing laws of the books regarding loitering and littering, but here again, enforcement is nearly non-existent.
Chattanooga Police regularly patrol the high-tourism areas while neglecting economically disadvantaged areas like Brainerd Road. Reportedly, law enforcement is so focused on the tourism-centered areas of the city that many calls from average citizens and small business owners go unanswered.
In December of 2020, the Chattanooga City Council determined the city was indeed suffering from a lack of enforcement of city codes already in place for two of the problems associated with the homeless population, panhandling and littering.
The lack of enforcement of city code on these issues throughout the City has led to a decline in the quality of life for average Chattanooga residents and is negatively affecting the success of small business owners in those areas not lucky enough to be in the tourism centers. Lack of enforcement of ordinances already on the books has led to increased drug and property crimes.
Mark Pulliam, Tennessee resident and contributor to the Tennessee Conservative states, “Rampant panhandling is an early sign of urban decay, followed by public drunkenness/drug use, and finally occupation by vagrants.”
However, instead of requiring that code be enforced, Chattanooga has created a magnet for the city’s homeless, one that could potentially bring even more to the Scenic City.
The temporary sanctioned encampment is not meant to serve as a permanent home, officials state, but “it will allow residents to better access the services and programs they need in order to progress out of homelessness. Finding a job and securing a home will now be significantly easier for residents who are able to feel secure in their safety and the safety of their belongings.”
Sam Wolfe, director of the city’s Office of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said, “Studies show that it’s extremely difficult to take the steps necessary to exit homelessness when you live in an insecure environment where your documents could be stolen or space invaded by a stranger. By creating a secure location for these residents to live, we will speed their exits from homelessness and empower them to take the next step in their lives.”
Any individual experiencing homelessness can apply for admission to the encampment via a referral from either the Community Kitchen or Homeless Healthcare, both of which are located one block north of the temporary sanctioned encampment, which itself sits at the corner of 12th Street and Peeples Street.
The City is granting priority admittance to residents of a nearby encampment which sits on property next to an active rail line about two blocks away from the new sanctioned encampment. Residents were previously asked to vacate for safety reasons no later than May 31st after repeated incidents of walking along tracks and climbing on trains.
The rail line encampment is on a property owned by Norfolk Southern and leased by the City.
A coalition of organizations including the Community Kitchen, Homeless Healthcare, The Salvation Army, the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, and the Chattanooga Housing Authority worked together to locate other options for the encampment residents by the May 31st final move date.
Coalition members canvassed the properties to create a list of people staying on site, and residents were notified today of the railroad’s request for them to relocate, as well as the coalition’s plan to help them find more suitable living arrangements.
All residents on the 11th Street property have been offered the opportunity to apply for entry at the temporary sanctioned encampment, and Help Right Here has worked for several weeks to process applications. Residents on the 11th Street property were also offered the opportunity to apply for permanent housing through the Chattanooga Housing Authority.
“City workers, along with our partners at the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, have for the last month been actively helping residents at the existing encampment navigate the relocation process, visiting multiple times each week to ensure that all residents are informed and empowered to take the next step toward finding a home,” said Wolfe.
Regarding the removal of the residents of the 11th Street encampment, Mayor Tim Kelly said, “I’m proud of our service providers and community partners who are working diligently and alongside our team to ensure residents of the property are quickly housed. I am also grateful to Norfolk Southern for committing resources for relief and rehousing efforts and for being flexible on a timeline to allow the city to come into compliance with safety requirements on their property.”
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In December 2021, Mayor Tim Kelly sold a property along Workman Road off Rossville Boulevard for $2,770,000. Kelly formerly operated Southern Honda Power Sports at the site, which he decided to relocate to East Ridge with the introduction of the Border Region Retail Tourism Development District Act, sponsored by Representative Esther Helton (R-East Ridge-District 30) and Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga-District 10).
The business, which was formerly operated in person by the Mayor, cleared out a homeless encampment on the property in August 2021, in preparation for the eventual sale of the property.
Chattanooga’s internal audit office investigated a potential conflict of interest after reports of the homeless encampment removal and the property’s sale for nearly $3 million hit the news.
However, the internal audit office three-page report on the incident “found no evidence or indication that Mayor Kelly used, or attempted to use, his position as mayor for personal financial gain, or to receive preferential treatment from any city official or employee.”
The office of the Mayor claimed that Kelly had no involvement with the Workman Road property since becoming Mayor and that all dealings with said property were conducted by a business management company.
The report went on to state that the removal of the homeless individuals was consistent with OHSH’s policy and procedures for homeless intervention and that “approximately 20-25 displaced individuals from the encampment were transported to a local hotel and offered lodging and other supportive assistance, funded by a Homeless Emergency Solutions Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. No police officers or emergency responders participated in the removal of the encampment.”