Some say progress is being made in working on a solution to the issue of homeless camps in Murfreesboro.
The City of Murfreesboro closed a homeless camp on the greenway off Old Fort Parkway earlier this month.
Mayor Shane McFarland posted a Facebook Live video on Wednesday, Jan. 15 talking about several city issues, including the camps.
Although the camps have been an issue for years, the situation came to a head during the New Year’s Day 5K marathon, McFarland said in his “Mayor McFarland fireside chat” video, which is a regular feature on social media. A person in the camp had posted “no trespassing” signs on the greenway.
“We can’t have kids or people who are using that area feel like they’re being threatened,” McFarland said. “Those are things the city has to take into account.”
The city and a coalition of homeless service organizations met and agreed to do “homework” to find solutions, such as possibly making zoning changes to allow for more permanent structures, the mayor said in the video.
McFarland told the Murfreesboro Post that the city cleaned up 35 tons of trash and human waste from an area stretching from that section of greenway to Fortress Rosecrans. No personal belongings were removed.
Last week he met again with a couple of service organizations to make sure the groups and their clients are able to get the help they need, he said. He met with city staff and talked about looking at ideas.
“I think everyone agreed we cannot have parts of the city turned into established camps,” McFarland said.
Amber Hampton, executive director of Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, said she is cautiously optimistic that progress can be made, and praised the mayor for meeting with the organizations.
“We’re working with them on a legal and humane solution,” Hampton said.
Camps usually get shut down for these reasons: people feel harassed, trash piles up or sanitation becomes a concern, she said. In this case, a homeless man experiencing mental illness posted the no-trespassing signs.
Jason Bennett, a homeless advocate who is not affiliated with any organization, has expressed concerns on social media about the city having an ordinance making it illegal to camp overnight on city-owned property. He organized an online petition asking the city to end the ordinance. He said such an ordinance goes against a Ninth Circuit Court ruling, Martin v. City of Boise, that found that a homeless person with no option of sleeping indoors cannot be cited for violating an ordinance against sleeping outside in a public area.
Bennett told the Murfreesboro Post that closing a camp not only displaces those people but also affects advocates and social workers who visit the camps and disrupts efforts to help people sign up for benefits. Also, every last Monday in January, a federally mandated homeless census takes place, he said, and organizers cannot count people if they cannot find them.
In his Facebook video, McFarland said the city is not trying to criminalize homelessness, but there have been safety issues along that section of greenway in the past, including a murder last year.
“We can’t have people homesteading on city property,” McFarland said.
Even as camps continue to create debate, transitional and affordable housing continues to draw community support. Rutherford County Area Habitat for Humanity last Monday dedicated its 162nd house, and is about to start building homes in Legacy Pointe, a subdivision that will have more than 70 affordable homes.
In addition to helping run the Coldest Nights emergency shelter with other organizations and visiting homeless camps, Cold Patrol helps people move into transitional housing, Hampton said. Public housing waiting lists stretch for two-three years, Hampton said, but Cold Patrol is helping people find different options; people receiving disability benefits, for example, have more options to find housing, for example. Cold Patrol earlier this month helped two homeless people move into an apartment and gathered furniture and other items to furnish the home.