Today is a new day, and my heart is weary, especially as someone who used to be homeless in Nashville, Tennessee.
There’s been a lot of reports in the news lately—"homeless this,” and “homeless that.” The people of West Nashville want to reclaim Brookmeade Park, where there is a homeless encampment. But it’s time now to have some straight talk.
Let’s start with the need for housing, and what kind of housing this should be. We keep talking here in the “it” city about “affordable housing.” But let’s be clear: There is a difference between affordable housing and low-income housing.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a low-income household is a household whose income does not exceed 80% of the median family income for the area.
These households cannot afford so-called “affordable” housing. Just the other day, they said that a one-bedroom apartment in Nashville is $1600. Is that affordable housing?
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Working towards true results
What low-income households really need is low-income housing options like public housing. The public housing program started as part of the Housing Act of 1937 and passed during the New Deal. When we talk about the homeless community, this is the kind of housing we need to be talking about.
The people of Reclaim Brookmeade Park, this is what you need to know: Your conflict is not with the homeless community, but with the government. Our local, state, and federal governments must build low-income housing.
They must stop playing with words, like when they build expensive housing and call it “affordable.” They need to show that they truly care, through meaningful actions. But they have not done this.
Mayor John Cooper: Thanks for serving us food at the Mission on Thanksgiving, but where were you during the Annual Homeless Memorial, where we grieved our loved ones who died without housing? You must be a mayor for everyone, especially the least of these.
To Gov. Bill Lee: You found millions and millions of dollars in the state budget for poor and marginalized people. But you decided to put that money in a special fund for other purposes. How special do people have to be to have money that was intended for them, so that they can have a sanctuary called housing? So that they can pursue happiness?
We have an election coming up on Aug. 6, and people should know the difference between right and wrong and who to vote for. Fixing the system is not just for the government to do; it’s something that we, the people, need to do. And the government must be righteous, to fight a war on poverty.
As a formerly homeless human being, I’ve graded the system, and our Metro Government is still failing. We must stop terrorizing the homeless community and instead strive to be a pilot city for the rest of the United States. Time is short. On Dec. 18, we memorialized the lives of 198 homeless and formerly homeless people who had died in the past year. That, by itself, is the biggest measure of failure—not just for our government, but for we as a people, as a community. This is sad, because we’re all brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not.
I speak to the millennials and to the upcoming generations to let you know that you are the change—today, not tomorrow.
I want to thank Vice Mayor Jim Shulman for having a series of meetings to try to eradicate homelessness. I was very pleased to see some marginalized people sitting in the meeting alongside me.
And to the white, privileged people that call the shots: Until you start building low-income housing, the less privileged will go nowhere. We have nowhere to go. This is an epidemic that has been going on for years and years. I myself was homeless for 17 years. We've been asking for housing for decades and continue up until this present day.
I say to the homeless community and the people who are marginalized: We must come together and organize and have a homeless union. And then when we sit at the table, we can make some demands and get some of the things that we need.
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New opportunities for influence
Both MDHA and the Homeless Impact Division have new leadership. I don’t know that we’ll have money to do certain things to make this system work, but that’s what it’s going to take: money. And we must think outside the box.
We should consider new sources of revenue for low-income housing. For example, we could have riverboats that would be gambling casinos for the tourists. And we could have a toll on Briley Parkway.
The homeless community must have a lobbyist who can communicate these kinds of ideas to Metro Government and the state government to make these things become a reality. If we can think outside the box, then we’ll realize that there was no box after all.
On Jan. 11, I will have been in housing for one year. I am grateful to the staff of my housing complex and the associate property manager for treating me with respect and care.
For the first time in over 20 years, I am living and not surviving. Everybody deserves housing.
Howard Allen, Jr. is the founder of Nashville Homeless Underground.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Reclaiming Brookmeade Park does little to end homelessness in Nashville