Task Force dives into homeless problem once again
By ZOË WATKINS
The Bedford County Homelessness Task Force met in their first meeting for the fall on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Led by Commissioner Drew Hooker, the committee members and audience members were able to directly speak about issues or challenges they see in Shelbyville’s streets.
The goal of the previous HTF meetings was to identify the main groups of homelessness, which they identified as situational, generational, and hostile. The last one — hostile — was their primary focus.
“We do feel like that population has been very small but it has been impactful to many residents, especially in the general area of the Square,” said Hooker.
But this conflict between the non-offending population and the offending population proved a sore point among the audience.
One South Cannon business owner commented at the meeting, “I do not run into, at the business, the kind of people that you’re talking that are truly homeless and needy. I see the mean ones. I see the stealing ones. I see the drugies…I’m sorry to say, I probably overlook some of the truly needy people.”
He retold how several times a homeless person would come up to him at his business and ask for a dollar. He said he would offer them $20 if they would sweep his sidewalk, a task he said would only take 15 minutes.
“I’ve never had a taker. Never. That’s the kind of people I see,” he said.
To protect the businesses and visitors coming to the Shelbyville, the task force has suggested a recommendation that would directly target camping on public property, loitering, and aggressive panhandling primarily on the Shelbyville Square — essentially, “unintended use of the location,” according to Hooker.
He emphasized that the task force was not a legislative body. Their goal is to only provide recommendations as well as start the conversation.
“This body was never tasked with the authority to pass anything. This task force was done to identify the problem, identify work solutions for the problem, and make recommendations for both the city council and county commission,” said Hooker.
However, some in the audience were concerned with suggesting any legislation since Shelbyville has no homeless shelter.
“It seems to me that it’s totally backwards to consider arresting people without them having an alternative place to go for basic activities for staying alive, like sleeping,” said Tristan Call from the Bedford County Listening Project.
The group’s biggest recommendation is to create a “central hub” where homeless individuals can seek out one location or person for information on food, housing, job searching, and other government assistance.
There is one point of contact similar to this at 200 Dover St. who is based out of the Family and Children Services in Nashville and is working as a case manager.
But will this “hub” be enough?
“Where are you sending the homeless?” asked Nicole Custer from Health Connect America. “My main concern is if Shelbyville was thinking about building a shelter for the homeless…I might have a client who just got kicked out of her boyfriend’s house and she’s got her baby and nowhere to go. I can’t get her to Murfreesboro to get into a shelter. She doesn’t have a means for transportation. I’m just wondering what we’re doing about shelter.”
Hooker said building a physical structure would be a decision for the county commission or city council to make.
But at the same time, some audience members brought up concerns about attracting homeless populations with such resources.
Attracting vs helping
According to Shelbyville Police Officer Letisia Diaz, who tracks a lot of the repeat homeless offenders, said there are anywhere from 50 to 70 homeless people in Shelbyville. One of the encampments is located behind the water treatment plant.
“Has anybody looked at the impact on local business due to the soup kitchen?” asked one audience member. “When you set something up, you’re attracting.
“I want to help the people of this community but we’ve got to be careful not to attract people from other communities just because we have services.”
Kay Bartley, from the Shelbyville Community Soup Kitchen, also attended the meeting and said, “I go over and ask…So far the comments have been no for us.
“We build trust at Soup Kitchen, we hope, and we’re a good place to start because that’s where people feel comfortable.”
“I feel that if you’re going to close the soup kitchen where they get their food, you’re not going to see a decrease in homeless leaving here, but more increase in crime because they’re going to start stealing for it,” said Custer.
Hooker added, “We need to make that as we go through and have these conversations that none of the civil liberties of these individuals are violated.
“We have to remember that each of these individuals are human beings and these individuals have a story. We need to make sure that we don’t lose sight of that but we also have to make sure the safety of the public is a high priority. That’s a hard combination to work through.
“That’s the important piece of this is that we can continue to have the conversation,” said Hooker.
The next meeting will be Nov. 14 at 5:15 p.m. at the Historic Bedford County Courthouse, second floor Community Room.
The minutes from previous Homelessness Task Force meetings — which include their resolution recommendations — can be found on the Bedford County Government website under the Rules and Legislative Committee page (https://www.bedfordcountytn.gov/).