William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Thu, 18 Aug 2005 05:09:42 -0400


Thursday, 08/18/05

Homeless protest lack of spots on commission

Vice mayor: Oversight accidental, will be fixed

By AILENE TORRES  aytorres@tennessean.com
Staff Writer

David Luttrell spent 20 winters sleeping on Nashville streets.
He was not alone. Lutrell is among roughly 3,500 other Nashville residents
that, for one reason or another, are forced to experience life on the
street, according to figures from one local homeless advocate.

Yesterday, Luttrell was among a dozen homeless people and advocates who went
to the Metropolitan Development & Housing Agency building at 1419 Eighth
Ave. N. to protest, then boycott, a meeting of the newly formed Metro
Homelessness Commission.
"I don't want to make them mad," Luttrell said. "I just want them to follow
the law."
Members of the homeless community are upset because the ordinance creating
the commission states there should be three commissioners who are homeless
or have been homeless in the past.
This has not been done.
Vice Mayor Howard Gentry said the oversight wasn't intentional.
In July, Mayor Bill Purcell asked the commissioners to meet and make two
recommendations for the three homeless community representatives. The
commissioners took the direction to mean they should hold the first meeting
and submit names of potential homeless representatives.
"They were not overlooked in the hearts and minds of the mayor or the
commission," Gentry said after the meeting. "In afterthought, maybe we could
have moved a little quicker once the commissioners were named. . Based on
the response by the homeless community that would have been a good idea.
"The fact is, we could have done it differently and we should have done it
The commission is the product of the mayor's strategic plan to end chronic
homelessness by 2015.
Metro Social Services Department, which is administering the project, issued
a statement late yesterday calling the misunderstanding unfortunate.
"As Mayor Purcell's . letter clearly indicates, the commission was first
asked to appoint three Metro Council members, and then, after those members
are on board, send the names of six potential homeless representatives for
the mayor's consideration," said the statement.
Shortly after the meeting began, homeless Nashville resident Howard Allen
began reading from a prepared statement, ignoring admonitions from Gentry to
wait until the public comment portion of the session.
"We feel that we have been overlooked again in the process to fix the system
and find a solution to ending chronic homelessness," Allen said. "We are
willing to work with you and participate in the commission, provided you
uphold this ordinance. So we feel that this commission is null and void
until that is done."
When the statement was completed, Allen and the other members of the
homeless advocacy group Power Project, stood up and walked out.
"Our names should have been the first three on the commission," Allen said
outside. "We said our piece. They wanted to hush us then and we didn't stop.
We made our statement."
Charles Strobel director of the Campus for Human Development, a homeless
shelter, defended the actions of the protesters. The homeless are more
concerned with what they'll eat or where they'll sleep than meeting
etiquette, he said.
"They heard this to be a commission that will make very important changes,"
Strobel said. "And so if you are desperate about where you are going to be
tonight, who cares about ... rules of order?"
The commissioners decided that no actions would be taken until the homeless
representatives were appointed. The commissioners are expected to submit
names by today for consideration by Purcell.
The Homelessness Commission will hold its next meeting Aug. 31. Gentry
promises that the homeless community will be at the table.
"We won't meet if that's not a reality," he said.