A Call to Action After the Storm

The views expressed below are exclusive to the writer, not any agency or organization with which the writer works or volunteers. In fact, many times, those places disagree with the writer.

“It’s still slick out there, don’t travel if you don’t have to,” is the mantra of politicians and news reporters about today’s weather.

But, just two days after a storm system dumped a seemingly unprecedented amount of snow on Metro Nashville, the city is ending its additional emergency sheltering of citizens who live outside. Citizens must contend for room at the everyday shelters that often fill early and/or have limitations that keep our neighbors from being or feeling welcomed.

Don’t get me wrong–emergencies don’t last forever. In political terms, they have “sunsets.” (Interesting terminology.) We are not supposed to expect Nashville to continue to shelter these individuals after the emergency ends. Otherwise, political logic argues it wasn’t really an emergency.

But, today these shelters are closing as snow and ice continues to block access to some of the encampments where our neighbors live in tents, of which it is often treacherous to access even in the best conditions. These shelters are closing as temperatures will continue to drop below freezing overnight. These shelters are closing as only five out of some nearly 50 Metro bus routes operate and when many restaurants and business where people normally warm up remain closed.

I think we can do better as a community. I encourage you to step up and ask the city to continue emergency operations.

People can often become frustrated with me because I remain skeptical and critical in times when praise is the most common. Who likes a Debbie Downer? And Nashville deserves praise for responding to this emergency. THANK YOU FOR GOING THE EXTRA MILE TO SAVE LIVES. It’s been a lot of work–I’ve seen it, been a small part of some of it, and know it is taxing and exhausting. Again, THANK YOU. But, I think we can do better as a community and I’m going to say so.

There is no silver lining to people’s lives being at risk. But, I am pleased that Nashville has again had the opportunity to see precisely how many of its residents are going without a home this winter. So much so that nonprofits had to beg congregations to open or stay open, the city HAD to open an overflow shelter because our current capacity is inadequate, the city had to open an overflow-overflow shelter, and then the city had to ask nonprofit organizations that don’t normally operate shelters to open more. And Metro employees, nonprofit organizations and volunteers, and regular neighbors stepped up! It was awesome.

While we thank Nashville for stepping up for a few days of an emergency, these neighbors are out there every night. Emergency operations should continue until it warms up and the snow melts, and Nashville should (must) earn even more praise by ending the crisis that leads to these cold weather emergencies–a housing market that is not affordable and is often discriminatory. Most of these neighbors are not living outdoors by choice or because anything of significance is “wrong with them.” They are out there because they simply cannot find a place they can afford to live in our great city.

Just a few days before the snow and ice hit, some out-of-touch Tennessee lawmaker decided it would be a good idea to propose an outright ban of affordable housing mandates by local governments. Not that he needs to–its not like municipalities like Metro Nashville, despite its housing crisis, are itching to implement them anyway.

What are we thinking, Tennessee? We need to assure affordable housing is available and open to the people who need it.

Let’s take the energy we used for this emergency to prevent future emergencies by promoting affordable housing, being compassionate and forgiving in our housing and not resorting to immediate eviction, and not being so awful as to say we want our neighbors to have homes as long as they aren’t beside us.

I love all of you who are already working on this issue. Maybe we can get a few more while we have some attention because of our snowy surroundings?

 

 

 

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