Category Archives: homeless

Competition Is Not A Christian Value

Nashville’s homeless street newspaper is The Contributor. The paper is produced and sold by the city’s homeless and formerly homeless. The content is phenomenal, with stories addressing what life is like on the streets, the issues of poverty and homelessness, first person stories, etc.

The way it works is, vendors purchase the paper for 25-cents, and sell it for $1 (or more — most people I know throw in an extra buck or three.) Vendors keep everything over that initial 25-cents; many have found this simple job a way to get off the streets and gain some economic stability. More to the point, it puts a different face on our community’s working poor and homeless. It allows those of us who are the “haves” to put a friendly face, a smile, a daily wave behind the folks who are usually presented to us as statistics. As an example, check out this story from early August, in which downtown bank employees threw a retirement party for the Contributor vendor who had worked their street corner for years. There are dozens of stories like it. It’s a way of forging a relationship, bridging that gap between people who are usually marginalized and the rest of the community.

But, as the Nashville Scene chronicled last week, the paper has hit on hard times. The Contributor has been enormously successful — the circulation is 120,000 papers a month now — and with rising circulation comes rising costs. The paper costs way more to produce than 25-cents an issue.

On top of that, the paper lost a major lawsuit (I wrote about it here) filed by one of our more, ahem, prosperous communities, where the delicate sensibilities of the lilly-white Republican churchgoers were, ahem, offended by those dirty street people who had the nerve to not stay in the shadows where they belong. Why look, George: there they are, out in public! For all to see! The very nerve! Why I do declare, it’s enough to give one the vapors!


The upshot being, cities can now ban vendors.

So in light of all this, you can imagine how much this story really ticked me off:

There’s some competition in Nashville’s homeless streetpaper business. A church-sponsored publication called Faith Unity Outloud uses roughly the same business model as The Contributor, as well as some of its old vendors.

Faith Unity Outloud looks like a newspaper, but it’s really filled with Christian-themed lessons and articles. It’s published monthly by Gene Boros of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet.

More than a hundred vendors now buy the papers for 50 cents and sell them on the roadside for a dollar, plus tips. Many previously worked for The Contributor, which has become one of the most popular streetpapers in the country.

“What can I say?” asks William Adams. May the best paper win.”

Wow, not really seeing the “unity” here, guys. Sorry, Gene Boros, you are doing it wrong. If you really wanted to help the homeless, it seems like this church would have devoted its resources to working with the Contributor, not in competition to it. But no, that’s not what they want.

Check this out:

Like Adams, many had a falling out with The Contributor, which enforces a code of conduct for its vendors. They can’t sell the paper while intoxicated, there are assigned corners at busy intersections and they have to go through a training program prior to hitting the streets.

Anthony Hicks says Faith Unity Outloud is different.

“We don’t have a strict set of rules,” he says. “You have to have a photo ID to sign up, but once you do that, you can sell it wherever you want. You can go wherever you want to sell it.”

They don’t care about the homeless or the working poor at all. That’s not their message. They just want to evangelize. They just want to spread the Jesus stuff — and charge the homeless 50-cents a paper for the privilege. They’ve completely missed the point.

No training? It’s okay if you’re intoxicated? Vendors can fight over high-traffic street corners? No problem! Bible stories? Sure, we all need more of those!

Well, there goes the community outreach. I wonder if that downtown bank would have thrown a retirement party if their vendor had been stinking drunk half the time, for example? If there had been petty “turf wars” for a high-traffic street corner among different vendors? How many people want to buy a paper that talks about religion, as if we don’t have enough of that rammed down our throat in this state?

(Let me take a moment here to point out one thing: I know that some vendors sell BOTH papers. Whether they are supposed to do that, I do not know.)

Faith Unity Outloud? Bah. If these people had any real faith, if they really wanted unity, they’d have rolled up their sleeves and helped out The Contributor in its time of need, helping the community understand the plight of the homeless and working poor. Instead it’s more religious noise. Guess that’s the “LOUD.”

I’m so over Evangelical Christians, who think somehow people haven’t heard about Jesus. Seriously, I am sick of you people. I’m not going to say church people don’t do a lot of good — heck, The Contributor got started in a church, and many of its staff are church people. I’ve also worked with enough homeless and marginalized folks in this town to know the vast majority of them are deeply religious. So this is not me being hostile to religion.

But if your church mission begins and ends with spreading the word then you are the very definition of Doing It Wrong.


Filed under Christianity, homeless, Nashville

Another Tennessee Voter ID FAIL

News-flash: we haven’t had a requirement that only property owners are eligible to vote since around 1850 or so. Someone might want to clue in employees at Tennessee’s Dept. of Safety, however:

Al Star, a Nashville homeless man, says he got the runaround from the Department of Safety when he attempted a few days before Thanksgiving to apply for a free state identification to vote, eventually having to call an aide to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper before receiving the ID.

Star, 59, says a clerk at the Department of Safety’s office in the Snodgrass building near the Capitol initially refused to issue him a free ID to replace his lost driver’s license, saying instead that he would have to pay $12 for a replacement. Star says he told the clerk that he no longer needed a driver’s license because he doesn’t own a car and had stated clearly on his application that he only wanted an ID to vote.

“She felt that I was homeless, which I am, and she didn’t want to help me with anything with the government,” he said. “She acted like, ‘Look at this, nobody’s going to help him out anyway, because he’s homeless.’”

Krissa Barclay, a Cooper aide who works in downtown Nashville, says she had to go up to the driver services center to convince the clerk to issue Star the ID. She told The Tennessean about Star’s case afterward.

Oh, good grief. Being homeless is not a crime, and it certainly doesn’t preclude ones right (or ability) to vote. This is just another in a string of failures for Tennessee’s Voter ID act. Yet the other side has yet to point to one real case of fraudulent voting that would have been prevented by this Voter ID law.


Filed under homeless, Tennessee

If Only The Poor Would Just Go Away

The good, white Christian folk of Williamson County are miffed that the wages of our unequal society’s sin are out there for all to see. If only the homeless and poor would just go away, am I right? It’s just so icky that the poor have the nerve to try to earn a living and improve their economic circumstances, where everyone has to see them! Can’t they do that somewhere else, somewhere … not so visible?

Because when you live in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States (and also one of the most conservative) it’s just too unpleasant to be reminded that the free market fantasy in which you indulge yourself doesn’t work for everyone.

I know I love to pick on Williamson County but in all fairness they aren’t the only ones who have a problem with The Contributor. We’re always hearing about businesses complaining about The Contributor vendors, and it’s true they are everywhere. There are several in my neighborhood hitting up students on their way to Lipscomb and Belmont, and commuters on their way to work. Personally I don’t see what the problem is. Aren’t we always telling these folks to get a job? No, not that job! Get a job where we don’t have to see you! Am I right?

Cut the crap, America. This hypocrisy is getting old.

The Contributor is a damn fine newspaper. It’s actually won some national awards. You can read about the paper here.


Filed under homeless, Nashville, Tennessee

American Trash

Yeah, I kinda had a feeling the news media’s infatuation with “golden voiced homeless man” Ted Williams wouldn’t end well. Thank God Jon Stewart provides the proper mocking of this truly crass performance by an Indianapolis Fox affiliate (it starts after the James Franco bit, sorry I don’t know how to edit Comedy Central clips):

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Indianapolis Homeless Talent Show
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

What we have here is the inevitable, predictable outcome of an American culture which no longer values people. That is it in a nutshell. That is what ails America.

We do not value people. Not in our policies, not in our attitudes, not in our discourse.

Maybe it’s our increasing isolation from one another. Maybe it’s our wealth which breeds this contempt, our consumer culture which views people as bank accounts and credit scores, not human beings. Maybe its our national narcissism, our national sense of entitlement. Maybe it’s the overall breakdown of American society which has been underway for the past 50 years. Maybe it’s biochemical, a product of the crap in our food and water supply. I honestly don’t know where this disdain for our fellow citizens comes from, but it’s the root of all our troubles as a nation.

I wrote about this last April, when I was reading Natural Capitalism: Creating The Next Industrial Revolution. The part which resonated with me then:

People are often spoken of as being a resource — every large business has a “human resource” department — but apparently they are not a valuable one.


In a world where a billion workers cannot find a decent job or any employment at all, it bears stating the obvious: We cannot by any means — monetarily, governmentally or charitably — create a sense of value and dignity in people’s lives when we are simultaneously creating a society that clearly has no need for them.

Every day, in a hundred ways, we are telling people we have no need for them. From the outsourcing of jobs to the foreclosure crisis to, yes, even the Citizens United case, Americans are being told they don’t matter. We are trash, we will eat trash and we will buy trash and we will live in trash heaps because we don’t deserve any better. That is the message the culture sends every day.

And this pathetic Indianapolis news station trolling the alleys for homeless people with a talent — any talent! Can you sing? Dance? Play the cello? Anything? — is just another example of the general devaluing of humanity. You don’t have a talent? Oh well, back on the streets for you with your sign and tin cup along with the rest of the trash! Simply being a human, a brother or sister, a neighbor, a fellow traveler: that is not enough! You must prove your worth in modern America or we don’t have time for you and we certainly don’t have the money or energy to help you out.

What next, “sing for your healthcare” fairs? Need that heart surgery? Well, are you deserving? Do you have some kind of value to the nation? Can you at least sing? Dance? No? Pfft. Fuhgeddaboudit.

Death panels, indeed. Modern American culture is one giant death panel, shunting off people we’ve decided are superfluous or drains or “mooches” on society because they aren’t sufficiently “productive.” Off into the trash heap of humanity with you, leech!


Along the same lines, please, please PLEASE go over to Gin And Tacos and read Ed’s post today. He hits on the same idea, in a slightly different way. To wit:

[…] Everything “engineers” and scientists can do can and will be done more cheaply there. And we did this to ourselves when we decided that having cheaper consumer goods for the top 10% of income earners was more important than having a middle class making decent money and driving the economy with (non debt-supported) purchasing.

When the upper- and middle classes decided 30 years ago that it would be a good idea to phase out the working class in favor of cheap foreign labor it appears obvious in hindsight that they were opening floodgates that would eventually result in white collar and highly skilled jobs going overseas as well. But something – subconscious racism, American exceptionalism, or perhaps good ol’ fashioned cockiness – convinced everyone in the suburbs and penthouses that this could never happen. Chinamen using computers? An Indian getting an MBA? Be serious! The unwashed masses of the Third World will never be able to do our jobs, said the comfortable elite. They will be useful for helping us break unions, but their skills are and ever shall be limited to menial physical labor.

First they came for the autoworkers, and I did not speak up. Then they came for the steel mills, and I did not speak up. Then they came for the white collars, and there was no one left to speak up for them.

Yes, yes and more yes. We hit on this path a long time ago. The top 10% decided the bottom 90% was trash and packaged their vision of dehumanization and cheap Chinese crap from WalMart and this is the inevitable result.


Filed under homeless, poverty, rants

Something To Ponder

There’s something surreal about watching Ted Williams, the “golden-voiced homeless man,” recite corporate slogans on the morning news. It’s the perfect rags-to-riches story for the Wall Street age: you, too, can find redemption hawking Kraft mac’n’cheese, Hershey’s Kisses, and AT&T cell plans! Yes, even the chronically homeless have a valuable role to play in modern capitalism. Huzzah.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled Williams’ life has taken a 180; it’s hard not to shed a tear watching him reunite with his mother. But while we break our arms patting ourselves on the back for bringing in one homeless man from the cold, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of other people — including veterans, children, senior citizens, and the disabled — who remain on the streets at any given time. And by all means, let’s not overlook Williams’ partially-blind ex-wife who raised his five children — including the son he had with another woman — while Williams was AWOL. This woman is every bit the hero that Williams is, perhaps more so. It annoys me that she’s getting so little attention.

There’s a “treasure among the trash” quality to the way look at homelessness in this country. Maybe every journalist in America will sit down for a chat with the man or woman holding the “Will Work For Food” sign by the side of the interstate. Ya think? And maybe they’ll find that Juilliard-trained cellist pushing a shopping cart or stock broker in training sleeping in the public restroom.

Then again, they’re just as likely to find the psychotic who can’t or won’t stay on their meds, the person who refuses to go to a shelter for whatever reason, the addict, the Iraq war veteran or the single mother. There are as many ways to be homeless and reasons for being homeless as there are homeless people. Every story is unique. And all I’m saying is, every person deserves to be treated with dignity, whether they have a golden voice or not. I’m glad for Ted Williams but I’m also worried for him, and I’m worried for the thousands of people who weren’t lucky enough to catch the attention of a local news videographer.

So, now that corporate America and the corporate media have stepped in to help this one homeless man, what about the rest? Could Kraft Foods make a nice, long-term commitment to the nation’s homeless — maybe by supporting some homeless advocacy groups?

Could the corporate media maybe stop covering bullshit stories like Sarah Palin’s re-Tweets and maybe devote more than just casual attention to this issue?

Could those of us touched by Ted Williams’ story volunteer at a homeless shelter or, at the very least, pick up a copy of The Contributor?

Hell, I’d be happy of we’d stop setting homeless people on fire. Or how about something a little harsher than a slap on the wrist to those who commit these violent acts?

Just something to ponder.


Filed under homeless

Irony Alert, Tea Bag Edition

Updating yesterday’s story about Nashville’s temporary Tent City arousing the ire of a local Tea Party group, it seems Metro Codes has come to the rescue:

Tuesday, Metro officials sent a letter ordering businessman Lee Beaman to clear out the homeless camp on property he owns in Antioch. Beaman donated the use of two acres as a temporary space for the tent city.

“We put them on notice, for 30 days, if it takes the owner a little longer than that, we’re certainly going to work with all parties concerned,” said Bill Penn of Metro Codes.

The original homeless camp in downtown Nashville washed away in the flood.

So just to re-cap, for those of you keeping score: a local Tea Party affiliated group objected to what a private property owner did on his own land, and got Metro Codes to enforce zoning and land use regulations to put a stop to it. How absolutely ironic.

Here’s the best part:

The homeless have to move by July 5. The Metro Homelessness Commission has so far found permanent housing for 8 tent city residents and has issued vouchers to 16 others who are looking for apartments, according to director Clifton Harris.

Wonder if these Tea Baggers would support allocating sufficient tax money for things like housing for the homeless so they don’t have a Tent City in their backyard?



Filed under homeless, Nashville, Tea Party

The Unbearable Intellectual Lightness Of Being A Tea Bagger

Via a Nashville City Paper commentary by Stephen George, I learn that Nashville car dealer Lee Beaman has donated land he owns out by Hickory Hollow Mall to serve as a temporary “Tent City” for the homeless. It replaces the one down by the river that got washed away in the flood.

Lee Beaman is someone I’ve picked on a lot here, so this is probably the only time you will ever see me write something nice about him, but props to Beaman for at least giving the homeless a place to live. I don’t know for how long, and I don’t know why: maybe it’s a fuck you to the Chevrolet dealer across the street from the site . Maybe it’s because he really cares. Who knows. It’s only temporary, and the location is not ideal because it’s so very far away from downtown services, but at least it’s something.

But Beaman’s action, while temporary, has sparked the usual NIMBYism, including this:

But all is not well in Hickory Hollow. As word leaked out early Wednesday that a new Tent City had emerged near the Target on Bell Road, some neighbors took to mass emails with their complaints. A tea party-affiliated group appeared ready to mobilize against the landowner who donated the plot (no word as of press time on the lasting effects of the cognitive dissonance in self-proclaimed libertarians telling a private landowner what to do with his property). Worries of increased crime and concerns about safety swirled.

That’s so priceless. A Tea Party-affiliated group going after Lee Beaman, the Tennessee GOP’s big moneybags? Oh, my. And it gets better. From WSMV:

Councilman Sam Coleman said he has gotten so many calls about this issue that he plans to hold a town hall meeting next Thursday.

So just to recap: a Tea Party group objects to what a private property owner is doing on his own property and they are calling on the help of the government? Wait a minute. I thought you people hated the government? I thought you wanted the government off the backs of private property owners?

I am literally rolling on the floor laughing my ass off at this point.


Filed under homeless, Lee Beaman, Nashville, Tea Party

Very Cool, Nashville!

Nashville has climbed aboard the Project Homeless Connect bandwagon.

This is going to be a very, very cool event in December in which citizens, social services agencies, the business community, the faith community, Metro government and pretty much everyone you could ever think of come together for one day and one purpose: to help the city’s homeless.

The day will offer a “one-stop shopping” of services, job placement, housing assistance, medical care and everything else, with the hope being we can get more and more of our homeless citizens off the streets.

This is not a new thing–some cities have been doing this for years–but it’s new to Nashville. It’s part of a nationwide effort that has been enormously successful all around the country. I’m glad to see Nashville getting on board with this.

You will be hearing about this in the coming months, and you will be asked to help. There will be a tremendous need for volunteers, donations, and participation by the community at large.

I trust my Nashville readers, both those on the right and the left, will do the right thing. In the spirit of coming together to make our community a better place for everyone, please get involved.

And yes, I will be pestering you about this.

Follow the link for the details and mark your calendar for December 2.

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Filed under homeless, Nashville

Silver Linings

I wonder if this trend has appeared in Nashville yet:

CLEVELAND – The nation’s foreclosure crisis has led to a painful irony for homeless people: On any given night they are outnumbered in some cities by vacant houses, and some street people are taking advantage of the opportunity by becoming squatters.

Foreclosed homes often have an advantage over boarded-up and dilapidated houses abandoned because of rundown conditions: Sometimes the heat, lights and water are still working.

On a related note, the Nashville homeless census (.pdf here) showed a slight increase in the local homeless population:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn., Feb. 8, 2008) – An updated count of the city’s homeless population, coordinated by the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, found 2,237 persons living either in shelters or outdoors. The number represents only a nominal increase from last year’s 2,176. The information will be used as part of the continuing effort to combat chronic homelessness in Nashville.

The count, which took place in the early morning hours of January 29, found 1,771 people living in homeless shelters and 466 in non-sheltered locations. Of the total number of homeless individuals counted, a majority are considered to be “chronically homeless.” The federal government defines a chronically homeless person as “an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”

I can’t imagine that too many of Nashville’s homeless are finding shelter in empty homes; it just seems like all of the new developments are in suburbs and places like Green Hills, while the homeless seem to be clustered around the shelters and other social services offered downtown.

But I could easily be wrong. I know full well that many homeless are adept at staying hidden. I know the park adjacent to the Green Hills Public Library has been home to several homeless individuals. These aren’t the folks dressed in rags and pushing a shopping cart (although Green Hills has its share of those, too), but rather folks who work hard to “blend in.” No doubt, they are not included in the recent census numbers, nor would be squatters taking shelter in an empty home.

I am reminded that these are people, not numbers: people with names, families, and stories to tell. They have problems we can’t even imagine. A lot of them are women with children: this year the Campus for Human Development said they had so many more women clients than usual, by December they had run out of feminine hygiene products. Our church actually took up a collection of sanitary products to help out.

I do know that we’re seeing increased numbers of people seeking assistance, people who don’t fall under the “chronically homeless” label but instead have jobs (sometimes two or three jobs) who have been affected by the credit mess. These are people who are just one illness or job layoff away from becoming homeless. They aren’t the folks showing up in shelters or sleeping under bridges–yet. And I wonder if this city is at all prepared to deal with this potential time bomb.

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Filed under homeless, Nashville, real estate

Please Help, Don’t Shop Redux

Though it’s only slightly related to the new anti-pandhandling ordinance passed by the Metro Council this week, I’ve noticed Google is directing folks over here anyway (ah, the benefits of Sitemeter!). Must be the post I wrote last summer related to “Please Help, Don’t Give,” an anti-panhandling campaign spearheaded by local downtown merchants last summer.

I wrote of my strong moral objection to this campaign at the time. I hold this opinion today.

Let me just say that the problem of panhandlers, “vagrants” and homeless people congregating around downtown is the predictable result of poor planning, poor social services, and Chamber of Commerce, pro-business, pro-development cheerleaders who never saw a highrise they didn’t like, but never bothered to consider what will happen to all the folks these new developments displaced. Everyone is to blame for this: the greedy developers, Mayor Purcell, the Metro Council, and the Downtown Business Partnership (and by the way, who exactly are you people “partnering” with, anyway? I’ve never figured that out.)

Now that the housing boom which has caused this flurry of development has gone belly-up, I predict we will be looking at a glut of fancy, high-priced, high rise downtown living. We will be in the unenviable position of having a lot of glittering new empty buildings, and a lot of people left homeless who can’t afford these pricey palaces.

Way to go, folks.

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Filed under Downtown Partnership, homeless, Nashville, panhandlers