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A New House, Heavy Eyelids, and a Heavy Heart

August 6, 2010

It may sound like a typical Friday night. I laid on the floor of an East Nashville living room, resting from work that day. Trying to keep my eyelids open as a group of friends gathered around the room. Friends, some that had been working all day, others that had enjoyed being off, all headed to this one east Nashville home this night. As we all gathered, the youngest of us put on a movie to enjoy for the night. With 17 people, the house got a little crowded, but some enjoyed the patio, others enjoyed a pizza in the kitchen, while the rest of us watched Pretty Woman. It was, after all, my first time to see it. And although I can’t say I was especially interested in the movie, I remember laying back and thinking: this is what it’s all about. This is what it feels like to be in fellowship and to care for one another. And it felt good. As though, despite all that was wrong in the world and even within our own lives, that this moment offered an escape from it all.

You see, before tonight, I had met only 4 of the others before. These people didn’t know me, but still they welcomed me into their home. Their home. No questions, just an offer to share in their supper. The individuals living in the home are former residents of Nashville’s Tent City. The same tent city that was washed away in our city’s 500 year flood earlier this year. Amidst the chaos and confusion that followed the flood, their flight went something like this: Tent City to Red Cross Shelter to churches to hotel rooms to a 124 acre tract of land in Antioch, TN. When they were forced to leave this land, they were scattered. And 17 of these people landed in a house in East Nashville. With each move the group grew smaller and smaller. In the beginning the group numbered around 150, now they are 17. The largest group left.

The best news would be if the other 133 of the people had been moved into housing! But, unfortunately, most were not. Instead, many were largely ignored by many who had the power to do something good. Some were given housing vouchers, which is a wonderful step. But others were not or could not receive them (due to many unnamed barriers that I won’t get into here).

It was on this night, in a house in East Nashville, that the feeling of joy, peace, frustration, and anger culminated into confusion.

I am relieved that 17 of these people were welcomed in by a pastor that understands how to love his neighbor. And is much better at it than I ever will be. I am joyful that 17 people have a house to stay in, where those who want to help them can come and fellowship with these wonderful people. I have peace in spending time with people who aren’t interested in drama but interested in just living. I am completely inspired by the case workers that have dedicated their lives to helping people move out of homelessness. Some of which make less money than the people they are helping. Wow, that’s selflessness, and I’m blown away.

At the same time, I am frustrated still. At Antioch, for a pastor-led movement that ‘closed the gates of charity’ in their community and, consequently, closed the last real chance at a tent city for a while. Frustrated at the city government who, (from the outside vantage point, I admit), has placed higher value on drawing out procedures than on helping their own people. Who has touted a lofty (and beneficial) goal of ending chronic homelessness, but who has seemingly tied their own hands from achieving that goal. Who hasn’t been able to mobilize the community, but continues encouraging others to join their team while silencing any organizations or citizens that speak about their nonprogress. You can see how quickly frustration can turn to anger when you focus on what hasn’t been done. And it’s always easier to complain when you’re not in their shoes doing the work.

The religious and independent groups can’t do it on their own without the sanctions and longterm plans of the city government. The city government can’t do it on their own without the hugely helpful religious and independent organizations. But somewhere in the mix, the two can’t seem to agree. We have a city placing 100% emphasis on longterm housing, but without the ability to raise nearly the amount of needed resources and funds to complete their projects. We have independent organizations crying out for the need of tent cities or temporary housing that will provide relief, protection, and case management in the meantime, but without the support of the city.

And, here we are. In a gridlock. Crossing our fingers. Just hoping that something will breakthrough. And in the meantime, we gather around as friends. We put in a movie, order a pizza, and enjoy life as much as we can. For as long as we can, until that sinking feeling of reality begins to set back in.

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