I work very closely with the homeless population in our Chattanooga area. My son and I take around 50 meals a week to our friends living in the tent cities.
On Wednesday at 9 a.m. I witnessed first hand the Tennessee Department of Transportation destroying everything - my friends' homes and all of their possessions.
My friends in the tent cities have always told me that TDOT comes and gives them a very limited amount of time to get their belongings before they bring in heavy machinery and destroy and remove everything they have right in front of them. These individuals do not have much and cannot move with such short notices and with no aid to move them.
My concern is our community is so unaware of what is truly happening to the homeless in our area. My goals are to bring awareness to the treatment of the less fortunate in our area, and hopefully create a positive change.
I have a nine-minute long video starting with TDOT employees destroying everything they own and putting it into large dumpsters to be hauled off. The video ends with my friend Vincent (who is homeless) watching TDOT destroying everything he owns, pleading for peace and understanding. The video is a tear jerker to say the least and I had to cut off my phone it was so emotional to feel so helpless watching him lose everything; not a single thing he or I could have done. To hear his words, and not an ounce of anger in his heart but just pleading for peace and understanding.
I truly want to make a difference, I hope that if this reaches the right people that changes can be made to how we treat the less fortunate in our area or at the very least assistance in relocation when required.
* * *
I applaud Katherine Zwitter's plea on behalf of Chattanooga's homeless.
Officials sometimes forget that each one of Chattanooga's 2,000+ homeless is a human being created by God with inalienable rights (human rights), civil rights, constitutional rights, statutory rights and regulatory rights.
Most are not allowed to vote because they have no stable mailing address. Most are unbanked because banks require proof of a street address. Most have no ID or drivers license because the state requires proof of a residence address. Most have no access to transportation as the city bus service is too expensive. (Many caring cities let the homeless ride for free or a nominal fee like a quarter.) Many are unshowered and unshaved since Chattanooga and Hamilton County agencies (and most merchants) do not allow homeless to have the right to use of public bathrooms or campground or private business facilities. (Tennessee has no Public Accommodations Laws like most states.)
The city could place portajohns near each homeless camp, but chooses not to do so. Ordinances outlaw peeing or pooping inside the city limits, so necessary human bodily functions result in criminalization of the very existence of the homeless, and expose children of nearby residents to stepping in human excrement if they explore forests near their homes.
Which local employers are willing to hire able-bodied workers who lack ID required by the I9 and W4? Who lack bank accounts and therefore cannot cash a paycheck? Who cannot afford to get to and from work for a couple of weeks until they get their first paycheck? Who stink due to no shower, no toilet paper, no toothbrush?
Where are those employers? Nowhere! Because state and federal laws require documents that homeless cannot obtain. Even a birth certificate is impossible to get without money or ID, and that is a required document for most other ID.
This is allegedly the buckle of the bible belt but is one of the most hateful cities in the country judging by how our government, businesses, charities, and churches treat the homeless.
Ask yourself: WWJD?
* * *
Katherine Zwitter, thank you for your heart of compassion for the much overlooked segment of our Chattanooga population, the homeless. There are so many reasons they are overlooked that we could write a book about it. I believe one of the main problems we face is it being easier to see the people as causing their own situation and it not being our problem, except to eradicate what they have as if to think it does away with the problem. It’s like believing you can poke a stick in an anthill and kill all the ants. What you are really doing is destroying the anthill while the ants just move to another area and build another anthill.
I don’t have the answers and I don’t believe any one person does. It’s going to take a community commitment of organized people with a passion and heart like yours. The Lord knows I’ve tried many different things but none of these things has done anything more than feed someone for a day.
I do believe that these homeless people can be served in a way that will give them hope and a hand up. So many of the homeless suffer from mental illness of some sort or another and to different degrees. I believe it will take the city, county and many churches and individuals working together with a good leader at the helm. Some, with proper help, will work their way out of these circumstances. Most will not ever be able to do so. It’s my prayer that enough will read your words and come forward to help in some way, but with a joint effort so we can make a difference.
J. Pat Williams
* * *
My own actual personal experience with the homeless encampments is that for a few months earlier this year the homeless constructed a “tent” in the small strip of trees and brush between the railroad tracks and our work place. It took a very short time for their litter and trash to pile up in the ditch between us. They also used the ditch as their toilet. It become very unsanitary and the drain pipe under the railroad tracks clogged causing nasty water to backup onto our lot when it rained. We contacted the city (they cleaned the litter from the drain pipe section of the ditch one time), the police, and the railroad but no one would make them leave. When it finally appeared the homeless people had abandoned the structure we tore it down only to discover around a dozen used syringes under a foam cushion they had laying on the ground.
I suggest to anyone who encounters the homeless not to enable or encourage their harmful lifestyle by giving them money or food. Simply tell them in a polite way that they don’t have to beg, jobs are plentiful right now and employers are desperately seeking their help. Let them know that everybody’s hiring everywhere and it appears that wages have never been higher for unskilled and untrained labor.
We all have health and/or “people” problems to some degree (common excuses by the homeless for not seeking a job) but most of us trudge on to our workplaces. Personal responsibility, determination, and patience helps lay the path towards being in a position to take care of one's own self. Enabling and encouraging the homeless with food and money makes their plight worse.