By Lindsey Krinks
Homeless advocates in Nashville will host a “Rally for the Right to Exist” on Sunday, April 1st, culminating in a mass “sleep-in” to demonstrate against Metro Nashville and the State of Tennessee’s onerous anti-homeless laws. The event is part of a larger bi-national day of action with more than a dozen other cities across the United States and Canada participating to raise awareness about the ongoing criminalization of homelessness in our communities.
The rally will take place on Legislative Plaza and will include food, discussions, music, a film, teach-ins and trainings. The evening will culminate in an act of civil disobedience in the form of a sleep-in to stand (or sleep) in solidarity with our unhoused neighbors and to support the civil and human rights of all, particularly the poor and homeless.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS (come whenever you can!):
1:30 p.m. Free lunch with Food Not Bombs
3:00-4:00 Meditation and talking circles
4:00-5:00 Mobile foot clinic
5:00-6:00 Pot-luck dinner with music (bring food if you can!)
6:00-6:30 Welcome and introductions
6:30-7:30 Teach-ins including “Know Your Rights” and “Criminalization in Nashville”
7:30-9:30 Screening of the documentary “More Than a Roof”
9:30-Sunrise Sleep-in on the Plaza
(*Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to participate in the sleep-in or have any questions.)
On March 2, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed HB 2638/SB 2505 into law, making camping, sleeping and cooking on state property a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by almost a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. In addition, “quality of life” ordinances enforced by Metro Nashville Police officers have disproportionately targeted members of the homeless community for carrying out non-criminal acts in public spaces, especially since 2007. Laws that prohibit sleeping on public property and staying too long in public passageways may make our cities more “attractive,” but the downside of these “quality of life” laws is that they criminalize the very existence of people with nowhere to go. On any given night, there are not enough shelter beds or affordable housing units to accommodate everyone in need. Hundreds of men, women, and children have no place to go save the streets and public spaces, yet these laws further victimize them for doing so. Furthermore, in Davidson County alone, vacant housing units (24,479 in 2010) vastly outnumber the people who lack affordable housing (approximately 4,000).
NASHVILLE STATS (Summary Report of Committee on Police/Homeless Issues to the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission, February 7, 2011):
– From 2004 through 2009, the number of physical arrests by police for obstructing a passageway increased by approximately 500% (from 102 in 2004 to 520 in 2009).
– From 2004 through 2009, the number of physical arrests by police for public intoxication more than doubled (from 2029 in 2004 to 5,031 in 2009).
– As physical arrests of homeless individuals for “quality of life” offenses were increasing between 2004 and 2009, the number of state citations issued during that same period of time drastically reduced.