• Thu. Jun 23rd, 2022

Last residents leave Chattanooga’s 11th Street homeless camp

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Jun 1, 2022

This story was updated at 5:14 p.m. on Wednesday, June 1, 2022 with more information.

Angela Newman has been homeless since June 2021 and has lived in an encampment on 11th Street in Chattanooga near the Norfolk Southern rail line for six months.

“I got really depressed, I had mental issues, and I didn’t handle it right and I got in trouble,” Newman said, explaining how she ended up on the streets. “It was kind of depressing. I was away from my family. I’m not from here. I’m not even from the state.”

After moving to Tennessee from Alabama, Newman and her fiancé, Eric Stone, were among a handful of lingering residents gathering belongings as they prepared to vacate the property on Wednesday. Stone uses crutches, having recently been shot just outside the couple’s tent, Newman said.

“It was an argument between him and another gentleman… he left, came back and shot him in the femur,” Newman said. “He completely broke it.”

Although they initially set a deadline of Tuesday for residents to vacate the property, Chattanooga city officials said they are giving people until around 1 p.m. Wednesday to vacate the lot. They then planned to bulldoze the site on Thursday morning.

Around 2 p.m. Wednesday, several people were still picking up piles of debris on the property. A few were sitting on the sidewalk across 11th Street.

Sam Wolfe, the city’s director of homelessness and supportive housing, said Wednesday his staff arrived at the property at 8:30 a.m. to remind people who had stayed there to leave in the afternoon. , in partnership with the police and public works employees.

“My team has been here every day for two weeks reminding people,” Wolfe said. “We first got the notification for people to leave the property…over two months ago, but we find that you can’t just post a sign with people. You have to engage, communicate with people .”

(READ MORE: City of Chattanooga works to remove homeless encampment from downtown and helps relocate 150 residents)

In a March announcement, city officials cited security issues with the camp located near active train tracks and said they were working with Norfolk Southern, the land owner, and several homeless organizations. to find housing for residents.

The city of Chattanooga has a beautification lease with Norfolk Southern on the property, Wolfe said, but people began staying there during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which the company deemed unsustainable.

With COVID-19 cases plummeting and security issues emerging at the camp, including fires and “multiple murder attempts,” Wolfe said, the city opted to set a timeline to evict the people. of the property.

“There have been a variety of issues that have surfaced on the site that we’ve been monitoring over time,” Wolfe added. “It’s really come to a head over the last few months.”

Among other safety issues, Wolfe said, the city recovered propane tanks from the camp.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Fire Department asks community to help prevent dangerous fires at homeless encampments)

“There was a fire and there was a tent that had many propane tanks,” he said. “We were lucky there was no explosion.”

Photo gallery

Chattanooga to finish cleaning up 11th Street homeless camp

Wolfe said Wednesday morning he believed every resident was making an effort to remove their belongings from the property. He said the city plans to maintain contact with camp residents to ensure they continue to have access to services.

The city has opened a temporary sanctioned homeless camp on 12th Street near Peeples Street. Some residents have said they want to live there, Wolfe said, and officials are also processing referrals for public housing and federal Section 8 bonds for rent subsidies. So far, according to officials, they have placed 35 people in social housing.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga opens sanctioned camp for homeless residents)

“We are grateful for a great partnership with the housing authority to really work to transform these homes in a faster way than they normally do,” he said.

Wolfe said everyone living in the encampment will have accommodation if they want it.

“There are definitely… people who say, ‘I choose not to use these resources,'” he said.

He added that his staff are simply trying to provide options for residents. Wolfe estimated that about a third of the 140 people originally living in the encampment refused aid. There were about 20 to 30 residents there Wednesday morning, he said.

Standing in the slowly shrinking camp Wednesday morning, Newman said she and Stone hoped to stay with friends for a few nights and use that time to find a more stable place to live.

There were “ups and downs” in life in the camp, Newman said. She met some good people and some residents, she said, even managed to get credentials that allowed them to get jobs and leave the property. The crime, however, is “crazy”.

“Sometimes you have to worry about watching your back, especially as a woman,” she said.

Newman has mixed emotions about the city cleaning up Norfolk Southern property.

“I get it. He tries to help people,” she said.

But, Newman said, she doesn’t like the idea of ​​the supervised homeless camp the city recently opened near the community kitchen.

“There are so many rules that I don’t think should be in place, and you have to think about the mentality of people being trapped somewhere…like an animal in a cage,” she said. “It’s bad enough that we’re here. We have to find something else to help people.”

Run by the nonprofit Help Right Here, Wolfe said, the camp was developed after extensive research into similar models, particularly in Seattle.

“We try to create options for people,” Wolfe said. “That’s why we created this location…because there are more Chattanoogans on the street than there have ever been before, and there just aren’t enough places to go. .”

Wolfe noted that the Chattanooga Regional Homelessness Coalition’s point count last year was 1,000 people and 700 of that number were sleeping rough or in tents.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga’s homeless homeless population increases 81% in one year)

Ann-Marie Fitzsimmons and Niki Keck, co-creators of Help Right Here, said camp rules are designed to keep residents safe. People can’t bring weapons into the camp, can’t have a sexual offense on their record, and can’t have a warrant for their arrest.

Residents must be back at camp before the gates close at 10:00 p.m., and there are quiet hours between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.

The camp currently has 15 residents and the nonprofit expects to have 60 by the end of the summer. The organizers always assess the maximum capacity of the camp.

Sitting in the sunshine outside his makeshift shelter on Wednesday, Ricky McDonald, 62, said he was still working on a plan but could end up living with his family. McDonald also lived in the 11th Street camp for about six months, he said.

McDonald’s has an overarching problem with how Tennessee has handled homelessness. A new state law that makes it a crime to camp in parks and local public property goes into effect July 1, carrying a maximum sentence of six years in prison, according to The Associated Press.

(READ MORE: Tennessee to make homeless camps on public land a crime)

“It goes against everything the ancestors fought for,” he said of the law. “They said everyone has the right to live where they want to live. It’s like taking away your rights… If they can pass a bill like that, the next thing we’re going to do is is to be under martial law.”

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.