Mar 17 2021
10:16 pm

Thursday, March 18, at 4 pm


michael kaplan's picture

"Building a vibrant and sustainable Knoxville"

This morning.


michael kaplan's picture

The six-hour workshop

The six-hour workshop was extraordinary. Amelia Parker's questions towards the finale upended the entire discussion. The session will be archived online and surely worth watching - if anyone has the patience to sit through it all.


Up Goose Creek's picture

Core issue

Lots of good presentations and lots of good work being done, it will be interesting to see how new approaches pan out.

But it was Chris Martin who touched on the core of the issue - "until you adress drugs, you will have camps" His solution is to invest in youth before they get into drugs.

He is proud of Flenniken landing and rightfully so, but said it's for permanent support, not for treatment. The people he sees under the interstate bridge would not be suitable for Flenniken, where they promote a tranquil environment.

While it is good to see more resources for case management, what about the people who seek independence? What percentage of the campers do not want assistance and see it as interference?

That question may have been answered in a part of the meeting I missed. Not sure I heard an approach for these people.

michael kaplan's picture

Flenniken is a fine project,

Flenniken is a fine project, but it has three issues:

1. The cost of building each ~300 s.f. unit was somewhat over $120,000. Caswell (a similar project in Parkridge) may come in over $160,000 per unit.

2. It's a 'high-barrier' shelter which would disqualify much of the homeless population.

3. It includes 24/7 supervision and a social services component funded by HUD. This may work for 108 units (Flenniken + Minvilla, and later Caswell) but not possible on a larger scale under the present economic circumstances.

Local politicians on both sides of the aisle tout Flenniken as an exemplary project. The irony is that Flenniken (and Minvilla) are socialist in concept, publicly funded and not economically profitable, except for the developers/contractors who built them and those on salaried payroll who run them.

barker's picture

Workshop Thoughts

The workshop was a good, if lengthy, primer on homelessness services in Knoxville. The key takeaway, which is what the consensus has been for years, is that housing is the way to combat homelessness. It's a simple concept to grasp but hard to implement.

On Flenniken Landing: It is NOT a shelter. It is housing. And some people who live in tents are perfect for it or Minvilla. The concept is to get people into permanent housing first, so that then they can work on whatever issues -- drugs, mental illness, lack of education, whatever -- that led to their being unhoused.

As for people who just prefer independence, the price they pay for that independence is that sometimes property owners don't want them on their property and they will have to move on. I have a friend who splits time between here and Florida, living in a tent wherever he can find a spot. He knows that he's trespassing and might have to move at any time.

michael kaplan's picture

The larger camps demolished

The larger camps demolished by the city (N Broadway and Blackstock) were both on public property, the vast roofed areas created by the Interstate highways.

barker's picture


Yep, but public property doesn't mean no one owns or controls it. TDOT, which owns the property in question, did not want the associated liability. That's understandable. I doubt you would want the liability of people camping in your back yard either.

michael kaplan's picture

TDOT is a public entity

As far as I know, TDOT is a public entity. TDOT property is owned by the public, like streets, sidewalks, highways, many parks, and many buildings.

The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a major case on homelessness, letting stand a ruling that protects homeless people's right to sleep on the sidewalk or in public parks if no other shelter is available. (December 2019)

Amelia Parker challenged yesterday the City's contention that 'other shelter' was available to those evicted from the encampments.

barker's picture


The case you are referring to is from Boise, Idaho, which was charging people criminally for sleeping on public property. Knoxville is not charging people criminally for staying in encampments.

michael kaplan's picture

Supreme Court cases are

Supreme Court cases are usually place/person/class/entity specific. The ruling (to let the Appeals Court decision stand) applies to nine states in the 9th District as well as Boise. And has implications for Knoxville as well (as you can see in my post below).

"As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter," the appeals court said.

The above is likely why the city continues to argue - as legal cover for the camp demolitions - that "shelters continue to have beds available to accommodate people".

There was some discussion at the workshop about that argument. Is it reasonable to take a family with a tent, belongings, a car and a pet, and put them in a bed at KARM where they have to leave for the day at 7 am?

So ... based on the Supreme Court decision: as soon as an encampment reaches a population of about 100 people, the city has to demolish it because its agents don't have a surplus of more than about 100 available beds. If the encampment had a population of, say, 250 persons, the city would have to leave 150 people in place.

Treehouse's picture


I've got no sympathy for TDOT but I wish they had some for people.

michael kaplan's picture

Note that the "AND

Note that the "AND PROSECUTED" line was blacked out. And here's why: U.S. Supreme Court leaves in place ruling barring prosecution of homeless


So, what I'm saying is that the city has to be well aware of Martin vs Boise. Cities communicate with each other.


j.f.m.'s picture

Yes, every city in the

Yes, every city in the country is aware of the Boise case, even though it is only legally in effect in the 9th Circuit. But even if it applied in Knoxville, it wouldn't change anything because there are almost never no beds available in existing shelters. The HMIS dashboard — (link...) — shows emergency shelter beds consistently run at about 55-65 percent usage, meaning 35 to 45 percent vacancies. So that's just not the situation Knoxville is in — people for the most part are not sleeping on the streets because they have literally nowhere else to go, which was the crux of the Boise case. Now, they may have good reasons for not wanting to sleep in shelters, but that's not what that court ruling was about.

Anyway, I've said this before and I'll say it again: Encampments are neither the cause of homelessness nor the solution to it, they're a symptom. From a policy standpoint, they're a management issue, which is how most cities approach them. People who spend all or most of their time talking about campsites as a major issue in dealing with homelessness are (in my opinion) latching onto something that makes them feel good to grandstand about while essentially ignoring almost everything actually important about dealing with homelessness.

michael kaplan's picture

The crux of the Boise case

The crux of the Boise case was that people were being prosecuted for camping on public property, in violation - so they argued - of the Eighth Amendment. There were briefs about why those people were not using the shelters. And there was discussion in Thursday's council workshop about why KARM (and the other shelters) provided inadequate shelter for some of the homeless population.


barker's picture


The key difference between Boise and Knoxville is that in Boise the police were arresting people for being homeless. They faced criminal charges. They served time in jail. That's not the case in Knoxville. Here, the police are basically saying, "Get into shelters or move along." Nobody's getting arrested just for being homeless, that I'm aware of.

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