Oct 7 2020
10:44 am
By: michael kaplan

Apparently, the Blackstock homeless encampment is set for demolition tomorrow. WUOT reported this morning that public discussion of this issue at last night's City Council meeting was cut off, by a 5-4 vote. CDC recommendations regarding the disposition of homeless camps during the pandemic are, apparently, being set aside. I'm not sure those living in this encampment have any place to go, so there may be a diaspora across the city and county similar to what we saw in October, 2018. Some of us have been documenting the camp for the last nine months. Attached is one view of what a small part of it looked like a month ago (faces pixelated).


michael kaplan's picture

human beings and their homes as 'items'

where are they supposed to go?

preview_blackstock_ copy.JPG

bizgrrl's picture

There is no plan for

There is no plan for relocation?

R. Neal's picture


michael kaplan's picture

Response from Dunthorn

Response from Michael Dunthorn at the city, dated September 23:

It will take some time to implement, but the Police and Public Service Departments at the City and our social service partners will be working together over the coming weeks to make this change, which we hope will result in a reduction in homeless encampments.

The action was apparently finalized yesterday at the city council meeting. I emailed every city council rep with the question, "Where are these folks going?" No response yet from any of them. I'll update if I get a response.

What is so interesting and different about Blackstock is that there are many cars in the encampment, suggesting that there are campers who have been evicted. I strongly doubt that most, if any, of these people will find housing by tomorrow.

R. Neal's picture


fischbobber's picture

I generally see some of these folks every night

Nothing I read seems to match up with what I see. The relocation plan seems to be, not here, somewhere else. Some of the folks I encounter appear to be preparing for winter, while others will just be dancing or hollering in the street with no apparent purpose. I wish had been born smart and compassionate enough to have a solution to this issue.

fischbobber's picture

Keith Richardson

The fellow that spoke to County Commission about being rained down upon from the spittle of the anti-maskers, also spoke of a pandemic plan for the homeless developed years ago by VMC and the city. The implication was that, thus far, that plan had guided the city’s homeless policy during this pandemic. Has anyone read it? Did anyone besides me even catch that in his remarks?

michael kaplan's picture

There's a long discussion on

There's a long discussion on this matter on Councilwoman Amelia Parker's Facebook page.


michael kaplan's picture

Demolition in progress.

Demolition in progress.

Up Goose Creek's picture

Leave No Trace

A couple of years ago, about the time Mr Dunthorn spoke at the South Knoxville center, I watched a movie titled "Leave no trace" about a voluntarily homeless Vietnam vet and his daughter.

In one part of the film they found their way to a permanent campground of RVs and the like. This place was a refuge for people on the edge of society who had created a sense of community many of us would envy. The campground was watched over by a very strong and compassionate owner who had support for enforcing good behavior.

Quite a contrast to Mr Dunthorn who seemed to focus on building codes and seemed offended at the notion of any housing that didn't meet current codes. The irony was his comment was made to a group from vestal where Mr Kaplan may have been one of the very few in the audience that live in homes that meet current codes.

Needless to say the trailers in the movie did not meet current building codes - might not even meet current RV codes but it was obvious the community was nurturing the residents.

Fast forward a couple of years and the CDC gave the stamp of approval for encampments. So the city tolerated the Blackstock camp but it doesn't seem like any physical support was provided. Were there porta-potties, a water supply? A dumpster? These things are a pittance for our city's budget. The most important thing would be a patrol car on site to cut down on crime. A social worker in a tiny house perhaps?

It seems like a case of the perfect being an enemy of the good or at least OK. I will encourage Mr Dunthorn to watch the movie and expand his viewpoint. There are at least 3 copies available at the public library.

If the pandemic is still going on next spring there is time to plan for a kinder, gentler encampment. It seems naïve to think a bed in a shelter is the preference for everyone.

michael kaplan's picture

If pandemeic is still going

If pandemeic is still going on next spring there is time to plan for a kinder, gentler encampment. It seems naïve to think a bed in a shelter is the preference for everyone.

I completely agree with this. In fact, I just emailed the Mayor, our City Council reps, and Community Development officers (including Dunthorn) the following:

The City of Knoxville has had at least two years to establish designated camping areas for the homeless, with an infrastructure of toilets, showers, waste disposal, security, social services, and anything else needed to keep these areas open and safe.

CathyMcCaughan's picture

Performative cruelty

The underpass that we visit for privileged reasons six days a week had more car habitats than ever last night. The uptick in day wanderers was something I have not seen since spring. Playing whack-a-mole with encampments hurts people.

michael kaplan's picture


I had to look up that one.

Definition: The practice of trying to stop something that persistently occurs in an apparently random manner at the point where the occurrence is noticed, such as terminating spammers' e-mail accounts or closing pop-up advertisement windows.

"It’s like whack-a-mole: as soon as you fix one, another appears."

It keeps Michael Dunthorn and Thomas Clinton employed.

fischbobber's picture

The obvious move.

Is to install plumbing connections on every site the city might have to allow use on. It might come in handy for any number of uses, but running water is essential for living in the city.

michael kaplan's picture

Yes. Water, sewage and

Yes. Water, sewage and electric lines run everywhere in the city, so it can't be a huge logistics problem to provide connections. The military is proficient in building field toilets, showers and kitchens, so, again, none of this should be beyond the capability of the city. The problem is that this matter has been put off for 20 years. What we learned is that demolitions are followed by a diaspora into the neighborhoods. Some camp evictees in South Knoxville were bathing in the restrooms at Walgreens and Kroger, sheltering in Hardee's and Krystal - both of which are now closed - and using the woods and backyards as toilets. We've been told, "They're safer in the neighborhoods." Is this what the city calls a plan?

fischbobber's picture

Porta potties

You can band aid sewage issues with porta potties, and indeed a long term working plan may involve porta potties, socialworker/camp attendents and moving these camps around every few months or so, but you have to have water.

It's a pretty complex problem that will likely call for a multifaceted solution. Again, I wish I was smarter, but the plethora of issues involved in this undertaking strikes me as overwhelming. Kincannon's dealt with a lot in her first year, and I don't see her being handed too many easy situations.

michael kaplan's picture

One problem is that the Mayor

One problem is that the Mayor is surrounded by people who have making (failed) policy on these matters for 20 years.

fischbobber's picture

Yeah, but

This really isn’t a problem that’s going to be solved through denial and blame. It not only takes will, but it involves a fairly significant investment from the various partners, city , county, faith based and humanist organizations alike will see their budgets swallowed by any real attempt to deal with this issue.

She is going to be confronted not only with harsh budget realities, but organized vocal , opposition to whatever plan she comes up with to move forward. I was considering that perhaps Blackstock could be cleaned, redeveloped, and staffed for the folks that chose camping for this transitional period in their lives. I don’t know how well this would work as a permanent solution though, and it could well be that a project of that nature could divert resources from a better use.

I do appreciate Mayor Kincannon’s clear attempt to act in the best interest of all stakeholders in this issue, I just don’t believe she’s going to be able to satisfy everyone, indeed, the best solution may not satisfy anyone.

Treehouse's picture

An idea

"There are certainly people who are homeless who have deeper, more severe problems," Berg explained, "but for many people, it's simply a matter of -- they ran out of money, lost a job, fell on hard times, became homeless. Once they're homeless, it's very difficult to get enough money saved up in order to find a place to live."


JaHu's picture

This brought to mind my

This brought to mind my favorite all time movie, "Grapes of Wrath" with Henry Fonda. Near the end of the movie, Henry Fonda's family move into a government owned camp. The camp was called the "Farmworkers Wheat Patch Camp". The people who live in it elect their own committees to run it, and camp members could work off the $1 a week camp fee by helping keep it clean.

michael kaplan's picture

I remember that. It screened

I remember that. It screened at the Tennessee.

michael kaplan's picture

New camp already established

New camp already established in South Knoxville. Homeless walking on E and W Moody, Young High, N Broadway. Where are these people supposed to go? No answers from the Mayor's office or City Council reps.

fischbobber's picture

Thinking about a bigger picture

Now that a causal link has been established between Jacob's cult and the active spread of covid, the handling of the Blackstock situation appears to be both timely and prudent.

This is not to say it is morally acceptable, but rather ethically necessary for Kincannon's role as city Mayor. The back story for quite some time has been what will happen if covid ever begins to spread in homeless encampments. Now that infection protocol has been established by Jacob's anti-masker freedom fighters, it was just a matter of time before someone got the bright idea to infect the Blackstock camp. Thus far, Mayor Kincannon's foresight has proven to be the single most effective tool we've had from a local leader, government or business, in reducing the spread of the disease. Her track record suggests she be given free reign to solve this problem, at least until an obvious result considering the multitude of factors involved in this decision becomes clear.

The immediate problem was dispersal as the concentration of residents, was by all accounts, approaching an unmanageable situation. As unfortunate and questionable as this decision was on a purely humanitarian level, the reality is that we are faced with an ongoing situation of choosing the devil we want to deal with by order of destruction. As Blackstock disperses and scatters, it will be much more difficult to willfully infect our homeless population, which has become more and more of a clear and present danger. We can cross our fingers that the approach of having a healthier homeless population will help all concerned parties, but the reality is we're really in uncharted waters when looking for solutions to this problem.

In the short term, Blackstock residents have the time to re-establish shelter , hopefully in smaller clusters, before harsh colder weather sets in. It also gives them some degree of defense against anyone deliberately setting out to infect their encampments. I've noticed a fairly high degree of mask usage by those appearing to be homeless. A broad based approach to keeping infections down may well work in this population.

Clearly the effectiveness of a small group of individual's ability to infect segments of our population, proven locally by the measurement of Jacob's cult's attack against the citizenry at the county commission meetings, has to be considered in City policy until the pandemic is under control. Possibly, Mayor Kincannon's decision is wrong, but I've lived in this County since 1968 and I've never seen a County Mayor behave against the general interest of his constituency in the manner Glenn Jacob's has, nor have I seen a City Mayor be forced to deal the disregard of a County Mayor to the overall issues of the community in developing working policy.

The more our present situation unfolds, the tougher these decisions get. Is Mayor Kincannon right? I don't know. I do know that governing from and ethical and moral standpoint lends itself to developing long term strategies that can work, as opposed to starting culture was and ensuring that nothing anyone will do will work.

michael kaplan's picture

I appreciate your advocating

I appreciate your advocating for the Mayor, but the Mayor's office - since October 2018 - has refused to answer queries about where these people are going and what becomes of their possessions. In fact, we know at least part of the answer: small camps are being set up in close-in residential neighborhoods, and those evicted from both large and small camps are pitching tents and makeshift shelters on the sidewalks and in entrances to vacant buildings. Those able can push around their belongings during the day and find a place to sleep at night. It's being documented. This is the result of failed policies that go back several administrations.

fischbobber's picture

I see these folks at night.

I drive Central, so while I'm right around Broadway, it could be on the other side of the world for all I know. I see the empty , fenced, cleaned out and cleared out lot under the viaduct. I see folks walking over there.

Perhaps someone could advocate a bathing facility could be built and manned there. Perhaps if we staffed and maintained public infrastructure like this during the day, it would allow for employment and discretion by night.

I remember during at meeting out by Caswell Park Mayor Rogero asked me how to get folks to accept the homeless. I told her to bribe them. Part of the Mayor's job is to integrate the homeless as a positive force within the community. Without greenways, sidewalks, public transportation and basic security the homeless can be a burden on a neighborhood. On the other hand, if the homeless enhance the property values by bringing infrastructure into a neighborhood to serve their needs, this stuff can work. I'm pretty sure Minvilla is still chugging along.

Finally, I would expect to see more failed policies in the pursuit of solving this problem. And I expect that some of those failures will be a success in someone's eyes. I'm trying to approach this from a perspective of stopping covid in the short term. I'm not really advocating for the Mayor, I just don't see a short term solution that doesn't include dispersal if we're serious about shutting down covid spread.

michael kaplan's picture

CDC guidelines for encampments

Connecting people to stable housing should continue to be a priority. However, if individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living in encampments to remain where they are. Encourage people living in encampments to increase space between people and provide hygiene resources in accordance with the Interim Guidance for People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness.


Scroll down to "Considerations for Encampments"

Unless every individual in the encampment has been connected to a housing option, the encampment should remain. I have queried the Mayor's office several times about this, and have never received a reply.

fischbobber's picture

In general

I agree with you. Look, I've been following the local covid situation though since driving home through a deserted Knoxville in March and April. I have been particularly attentive to what Martin Danial, Jason Zachary and Glenn Jacobs are trying to do. Look at the spike of the last two days. That was Jacobs using his people to infect the folks at a County Commission meeting and shows the first real proof of weaponizing covid carriers will do.

All it would take is weaponizing one church in Halls to help feed the homeless for one day and the whole camp could end up infected. The CDC does not figure leadership like that into their recommendations.

In theory, I find it very easy to agree with you, but the reality in Knoxville is that the hospitalizations and deaths among the homeless, should a surge ever happen within that community is a huge risk for the entire town. We are down to 31 ICU beds. I don't know that we have the hospital capacity to serve the community should covid run unchecked through a large homeless encampment.

Perhaps my working assumption that this trifecta of Republican leaders are pure evil is wrong. Perhaps they are merely someone's useful idiots. And perhaps when the camp is cleared it could be cleaned, sanitary bathroom and shower facilities can be built and staffed and we can step back, without a covid spike breathing down out throats. But everything I see, I view through the window of trying to prevent a surge of covid in the homeless community. In other words, I look back at the previous two administrations and their work on this problem and marvel at how easy they actually had it. Covid has changed everything.

I don't have the answers, nor do I consider myself much of an advocate for the homeless community in general. Since covid has started I seen probably hundreds of different homeless folks that probably needed a hundred different solutions to match their personal circumstance. I would start with social field workers to get an inventory and handle on how best to serve the population. That doesn't mean I'm right, it's just that no one seems to be putting a plan on the table taking into account everything that's going on. My style of advocacy is much more suited to simple problems, like covid.

michael kaplan's picture

homeless infection rate

I spoke with Bruce Spangler several months ago. He confirmed national reports that the infection rate among the homeless population was significantly lower than that of the general population. I don't know whether that holds true for today. The reasons given were their being outdoors longer (i.e. not indoors in artificially ventilated spaces) and away from 'spreader' venues like churches, restaurants, bars, theaters, and public transportation.

fischbobber's picture

This summer

I’d say that was an accurate assessment this past summer. Three factors come into play though. People will gravitate towards areas that offer services in the winter driving up the population. Weather circumstances will become seasonally more harsh. Covid spread is becoming more and more uncontrollable. Spreader events can and are being deliberately created. Some , like football games are being designed to reduce as much as possible the possibility of infection ,while others like the commission meetings, are designed to maximize it. I finally drove that area today, and from what I saw, if it was as full as folks said it was, I’m not sure the town had the resources to sustain a full blown Covid outbreak in that community. I wish I had a more compassionate view, but we must keep our citizens as healthy as possible, in order to ultimately move forward. As I said, I hope people that are smarter than me are working on it.

michael kaplan's picture

Post-demolition diaspora

As expected, there are now groups of homeless congregating in South Knoxville off Chapman Highway, and as far north as Callahan Drive and Emory Road. Wherever there's a Weigel's or other 24/7 convenience store. This is the city's homeless policy.

The first image below is at Hall of Fame Drive and Summit Hill. The young couple was begging. The second image was in the Blackstock area, a day after the demolition. The third image was at the corner of W Moody and Chapman Highway. There is increased 'grocery cart' traffic along N Broadway, and in the neighborhoods to the east and west of Chapman.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

TN Progressive

TN Politics

Knox TN Today

Local TV News

News Sentinel

State News

Local .GOV

Wire Reports

Lost Medicaid Funding

To date, the failure to expand Medicaid/TennCare has cost the State of Tennessee ? in lost federal funding. (Source)

Search and Archives