Nov 13 2020
03:02 pm
By: michael kaplan

I just watched the video of the October 6 Knoxville City Council meeting where the Mayor announced the impending demolition (what she calls 'cleaning') of the Blackstock homeless encampment. Only Council Rep Amelia Parker questioned the action. After a meeting lasting over 3 hours, five members of the public were allowed to speak for 5 minutes each. Four spoke against the demolition, one in favor. During these comments, members of Council sat stone-faced, and none saw fit to respond to the harsh condemnation of the City's action, which was in violation of CDC guidelines. A link to the meeting follows. Public comments can be heard at 3:17.


michael kaplan's picture

From the official minutes of the meeting

Mayor Kincannon addressed recent efforts by the City to clean a homeless encampment under the Interchange of Interstates 40 and 275, also known as Blackstock. This encampment has been in place since March. It was allowed to stay in place during the Coronavirus Pandemic affected. The Mayor stated that health and safety concerns have become an issue in the area. Warnings have been and are continuing to be given about the upcoming cleaning of the area. Shelters have space to accommodate unhoused individuals.

Council Member Rider inquired about the next scheduled homeless roundtable meeting. Michael Dunthorn, Office of Homelessness, responded that there is not one currently scheduled on account of the pandemic.

So, for the homeless, the pandemic is over. For the Office of Homelessness, it's not over.

fischbobber's picture

At the risk of pi**ing everybody off.

Has anyone considered restricting the regulations on homeless occupancy at Concord, Carl Cowan and Farragut Admiral parks? For the winter anyway, they have restroom facilities, reasonable access to food supplies, some of Knoxville’s wealthiest and most populated churches to provide logistical support and neoliberal government representation which would allow for minimal government interference and a free market approach to helping these folks make it through the winter.

I realize that it is a seasonal bandaid to a gunshot wound idea, but given the degree of defense of a hands off government response Zachary and Jacobs are insisting on with Covid, that response would be well suited to allowing this to happen.

billshearn's picture


I don't think the good christians of West Knoxville will welcome poor people that close to their homes. WWJD?

fischbobber's picture

The point

The point of government is to serve the general welfare of the community. If allowing access to Concord Park was in the general welfare of the entirety of Knox County, then surely the neoliberals, those same folks from Farragut that graced us with a school board chair that seems to think sacrificing a child is a fair price to pay for easing quarantine (and probably mask) restrictions is just the price we should pay, will recognize that this solution is the least government involvement solution we can have. All we can do is take them at their word at this time.

fischbobber's picture


We will have more, not less homeless folks as time progresses.

Of all the folks I observe on the survey, I respect the homeless the most. They show all the traits of strength and resiliency that folks claim America was founded on.

JaHu's picture

What would be wrong with

What would be wrong with building one room (two rooms for a family) homes that are all constructed as one unit and on multi-levels, and actually give them a deed? People used to live in two room shotgun houses and survived. Even Dolly! These could be built out of block and concrete which would make them fire resistant and they could do the same with bathrooms. They could locate all the bathrooms in one location and some would have a toilet sink and shower and others would only have a toilet and sink. But all the plumbing would be in one location which would save in cost and maintenance. Actually giving a place with a roof over their head, no matter would give the give them a little pride and allow them to have some leeway to personalize their units.
This might give them a little sense of security. These could be tiny home condos. To keep the homes they would have to agree to a one, two, or three month inspection and cleaning. There might be a downsize to this but I can't think of any serious ones. People live this way in many foreign countries and can actually live a happy life.

Joe328's picture

Homeless in Farragut

There are homeless camps in Farragut. They sleep behind the primary school, on the greenways, and yes they use the restrooms at the parks. Some know which homes will give handouts and they even knock on doors for handouts. When City Council forces the homeless to move out, a few will take a late bus to west Knoxville and return the next morning.

michael kaplan's picture

There are homeless camps

There are homeless camps everywhere in the Knoxville area. One KPD officer involved in camp demolition estimated "at least 5,000" homeless living in the woods and in the streets. Pushed on that estimate, he said there could be over 7,000, maybe as many as 10,000.

It should be pointed out that those living in tents are not houseless. Their tents are their dwellings, and the Mayor, in ordering the demolition of the encampments, has destroyed their dwellings. It should also be noted that there are people living in tents around the world. Native peoples on this continent lived in tents.

During the Great Depression, there were tent cities and 'shacktowns' across the country. These were a feature of poverty and economic crisis. Most of those living at Blackstock were housed in commercial tents, surrounded by their possessions and often with a vehicle parked next to their tent. I would assume many of them were evicted from their apartments or houses as a result of the pandemic.

The Blackstock camp was built on unused public land under the highway. Obviously, the tents violated codes and were illegally constructed. But they were dwellings, and the city's demolition ('cleaning,' to use the Mayor's term) created a new condition of homelessness for many.

The Mayor claimed that there were 110 available beds at KARM and VMC's Foyer shelters. But people in those shelters have to leave early in the morning. Where are they suppose to spend their days? In the desolute outdoor 'day space' provided by the city?

In her reply to Rep. Amelia Parker's question, the Mayor's final statement was, "This [cleaning] is not an unusual step. We've done this before, before I was Mayor." In my opinion, a rather flimsy excuse for the city's having an inhumane and unsustainable homeless policy.


Joe328's picture

I agree with all you said and

I agree with all you said and the mayor's reasoning that it's been done before is disgraceful. The removal of the camp is spearheaded by one former city council member who has an office in the area.

michael kaplan's picture

the mayor's reasoning that

the mayor's reasoning that it's been done before is disgraceful


michael kaplan's picture

Sorry for the misspelling of

Sorry for the misspelling of desolate. Grim might be a better word. If in fact the Mayor made her decision on the basis of one or two complaints by nearby businesses, it seems that should be public information. Where was City Council in this process?

fischbobber's picture

2.2 million

There is uncommitted money in that grant for good ideas if I understood the presentation tonight.

Surely we have public space, dispersed through town, where we could allow citizens access to running potable water, toilet, and bathing facilities. Maybe if we thought about starting small, we could take a first step.

michael kaplan's picture

This was proposed two years

This was proposed two years ago, but the city has done nothing except continue its 'cleaning' campaign. Apparently all the city knows how to do (or wants to do) is outsource programs to contractors like KARM, VMC, Salvation Army, Helen Ross McNabb, First Step, CAC, and a couple of others, each skimming some of the money for salaries and overhead. It's the Homeless Industry.

fischbobber's picture

Religious Affiliations

It does concern me that public money goes to organizations that have religious qualifications for the use of that money. That being said, one must fund those organizations if they are the community’s stopgap service provider. It is a catch-22and a conundrum.

sobi's picture

I'm probably alone, but I

I'm probably alone, but I find your reading of this bit of the situation a little counterintuitive.

It does concern me that public money goes to organizations that have religious qualifications for the use of that money. That being said, one must fund those organizations if they are the community’s stopgap service provider. It is a catch-22and a conundrum.

Why? Faith-based organizations have been filling this gap since long before you and I were here, and the main reasons for that, really, are that 1. charity's deeply embedded in the DNA of FBOs, and is a powerful motivator; and 2. nobody around here besides FBOs is doing much more than jabbering about providing, or the effects of not providing, shelter to people tangled up in homelessness on the streets. Emergency shelter meets acute need on a large scale, whether you agree with me or not that it is by itself wholly inadequate to the challenge of making any kind of permanent impact on the issue of homelessness.

It's hard for me to see how there's anything mysterious and confusing about public money going to organizations that put the rubber on the road. FBOs are at least attempting to mitigate personal crises in the context of an issue which continues to snarl up the very best heathen minds in all the land. Who cares if they're Christians, or hell, even Unitarians or Episcopalians? Who else is doing that work around here?

michael kaplan's picture

I attended a public meeting

I attended a public meeting at Flenniken to discuss issues related to homelessness. At the end of the meeting, we were asked to hold hands and pray.

fischbobber's picture

I suppose.....

As long as everyone was Missouri Synod Lutherans that would be okay.

Treehouse's picture

I care

The Christian organizations getting public tax funds while forcing their religion on clients in order to provide them services is the problem. And even as a non-profit, their management could be making very good salaries. It might be keeping some of the homeless from getting services because they don't want to be preached at. Helen Ross McNabb does not provide only faith-based services as far as I know. So yes, there are some. The churches do and did provide social services and that's fine. But it's an overwhelming problem and we can use more solutions and more social workers from non-theistic backgrounds would be good.

sobi's picture

Is McNabb’s shelter big

Is McNabb’s shelter big enough to replace the beds lost when you cancel KARM because of the forced conversions and profiteering?

barker's picture

I'm pretty sure no one would

I'm pretty sure no one would object to a secular nonprofit opening a shelter or otherwise providing services to those experiencing homelessness.

michael kaplan's picture

secular nonprofit

secular nonprofit

That's called Government. Aside from the CAC, the City/County clearly doesn't want to get into that business.

sobi's picture

Sure, sure, Barker.

I'm pretty sure no one would object if little crystalline fairies shot out of your ass and instantly fixed all the teeth in East Tennessee, but I don't see that happening, either.

barker's picture

I'm also pretty sure there's

I'm also pretty sure there's an insult in there somewhere, but I am too dense to figure it out. Especially since I agree with your assessment about faith-based organizations made earlier in the thread. My point was that those who are concerned about religious organizations imposing requirements on those they help are free to form their own nonprofits to provide shelter without the requirements.

sobi's picture

No personal insult intended.

I was partly trying to entertain myself, which is a distracting thing that cannot be helped. I apologize if I came across as a horse's crystalline fairy dispenser. I hold you in fairly high regard, truth be told.

But I do mean insult to the idea that nonsectarian charities are going to get into the operation of emergency shelter at scale anytime soon in our community. I base my belief (and that is what it is: a belief) on the fact that this endeavor is extremely difficult work with constant exposure to the worst kinds of human misfortune, and that your impetus to engage in it has to be right strong. This idea of non-religious people stepping up to do things they simply don't seem all that motivated to do seems to run in the background of these kinds of discussions, and it strikes me as one of the many ideas flying 'round the issue of homelessness that are simply unreal, and this one is so unlikely as to be a waste of time to continue thinking about it out loud. Could the heathen clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the wind-whipped poor? Sure, they could. Would some people call that a victory for, I dunno, nonsectarianism? Clearly they would. Call me cynic if ye wanna, but that seems like a weak motivation, and I'll eat a delicious hat if it happens, if Mr. Dr. Kaplan will agree to photograph it on a plate after I've had a few bites of it.

And no, Mr. Dr. Kaplan, nonsectarian charity doesn't equal government. Government is government, and it is the opposite of charity for reasons that should be obvious even to the most obtuse in our midst (and yes, I gently would suggest that you at least graze the edge of that field at times). Many, many taxpayers here don't even want apartment complexes near them that have formerly-homeless people living in them, quietly enjoying their premises. Imagine the outcry if government around here started getting into operating emergency shelters besides the county hoosegow on a large scale. There's not enough popcorn in the whole universe, my friend.

michael kaplan's picture

religious organizations

religious organizations imposing requirements

These 'religious organizations imposing requirements' (KARM, VMC, Salvation Army) are funded in part by taxpayers. I don't know whether the 'requirements' in question relate to religion, but it seems to me the city/state/feds could define/limit the requirements a non-profit imposes. For example, HUD could state that it would not provide Emergency Shelter grants to any entity throwing people out at 7 am, or any entity requiring prayer or religious affiliation.

Sounds like a potential Supreme Court case to me ...

j.f.m.'s picture

Pretty sure I have made this

Pretty sure I have made this exact correction several times here, but one more time: KARM does not receive public funding. They deliberately do not seek public funding, specifically because of its potential interference with their religious mission. You can object to KARM on any number of counts if you want, but not on the grounds that it receives public money.

VMC was formed by downtown churches, but it is not an evangelical organization in the way that KARM is. Participation in its programs does not require any religious activity.

michael kaplan's picture

I'm sure I've said this

I'm sure I've said this several times here: KARM does not receive any direct federal, state or city funding. But as a non-profit, it receives indirect public funding as it is exempt from paying sales and property taxes, and donations may qualify for tax deductions.

j.f.m.'s picture

as a non-profit, it receives

as a non-profit, it receives indirect public funding as it is exempt from paying sales and property taxes, and donations may qualify for tax deductions.

You could say this about literally any nonprofit organization in the country. That is not the same as being taxpayer-funded, and continuing to describe as such is frankly misleading and borderline dishonest.

As for specific funding for mental health services, I'm not familiar with that so would need to see the actual facts. The point is, they do not receive taxpayer funding on any kind of ongoing basis, because they don't want it. It would interfere with their religious mission.

Whatever people don't like about KARM, you cannot in any kind of fair way describe them as taxpayer-funded.

sobi's picture

You probably were working at the COK when this happened.

The majority of KARM’s funding is from individual donations. KARM is not a United Way agency, nor does it receive any direct federal or state funding. This year, KARM has been awarded a combined total of $30,000 from both the City of Knoxville and Knox County. This funding is directed to Crossroads Welcome Center.

“Our folks are extremely sick,” Sledge said. “We have a lot of mental issues and a lot of physical issues.”

Source is here.

I'm a little familiar with what Crossroads was back when it started up, but don't know any more about its funding than what's here, and I assumed the mental health angle, which might be incorrect. In any event, you're correct that KARM's not taking public funds for its normal operations.

j.f.m.'s picture

I don't recall that, but

I don't recall that, but there's a reference to it in this 2013 report: (link...)

Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM), the primary emergency shelter in Knoxville, continued work to enhance the Crossroads Welcome Center, a daytime resource center where homeless individuals and families can begin to access the services that will get them back into housing. The Crossroads Center includes space and coordination that allows a number of other agencies to offer services and a point of contact within the center.

That was part of the 10-Year Plan coordination effort, to make sure agencies were connecting with each other and getting everyone entered in the HMIS database. Not funding KARM programming, just paying to establish a coordinated multi-agency presence in KARM's space. (Because, like them or not, KARM does see the largest volume of any homeless agency in town.)

sobi's picture

KARM has,... the recent past, received monies from the City of Knoxville and Knox County to help fund specific And focused programs that I believe were, and maybe still are, providing mental healthcare services. I don’t know if that is current. I don’t believe KARM receives, or ever received, any State or Federal funding for its normal operations. I’m still baffled that anyone thinks this is problematic.

Treehouse's picture


I either didn't know or forgot that about KARM and VMC. Thanks.

fischbobber's picture

Crystalline Fairies

You know, you could probably get Disney to make a movie about those crystalline fairies coming out your ass and fixing people’s teeth. That’s a pretty cool superpower to have if you ask me. We could call it “Scott helps out at the homeless camp.” and use the attendance receipts to fund retirement plans and help the homeless.

barker's picture


Ha! Forgive me, but the idea of crystalline fairies flying from by backside gave me a horrible burning sensation. We're saying the same thing, though mine is admittedly in shorthand. You are correct that faith-based organizations are the ones who have stepped up with money and volunteers to provide services to people experiencing homelessness. The role of local government isn't to be a landlord or shelter operator; it's to provide funding, most often just passing it on from the federal government, to the organizations that actually provide the services.

michael kaplan's picture

The role of local government

The role of local government isn't to be a landlord or shelter operator

That's your opinion, but it's the public who decides what the role of local government is or should be.

There's a long history of local government as landlord. KCDC, for example, manages a good, affordable program for seniors. Some of the KCDC senior housing projects are exemplary: I've had friends living in two of them. They are nicely designed and reasonably well managed. I have family in New York whose first housing was in public 'affordable' projects built and managed by the city. And the City of Knoxville - through the PBA - is itself a landlord. The Convention Center, Coliseum, Jacobs Building, Regal Riviera are all city-owned buildings.

barker's picture


I admit being overly broad in my assertion. However, KCDC is the local agency that administers federal housing programs, which do not include emergency shelters for those experiencing homelessness (though Section 8 does enable people to move into permanent supportive housing). The city owns the Convention Center, Coliseum, Jacob Building and others, but it's not a "landlord." The city hires a company to manage them, but they are not leased out to other entities. The city is the landlord for the Regal Entertainment HQ on the South Waterfront, a decision that generated considerable controversy when it was done.

michael kaplan's picture

A landlord is the owner of a

A landlord is the owner of a house, apartment, condominium, land, or real estate which is rented or leased to an individual or business, who is called a tenant.

Landlords, i.e. owners of property, often hire management companies to manage.

As far as I know, the City rents out the Convention Center, Coliseum, Jacob Building and others, so it is technically a landlord. But that's beside the point. The City - when it wants to - gets into the development business. When it doesn't want to, it argues "That's not what the City does."

R. Neal's picture

For some reason I'm reminded

For some reason I'm reminded of the SKB days when I criticized the KNS about a TVA story by saying the KNS was "so far up TVA's ass they are tasting Brylcreem, with apologies to Junior Soprano."

It was subsequently pointed out to me that it was a Barker article, and that I had previously praised him for his reporting on TVA and the corrupt sheriff, and had regarded him as a friend of the then anonymous SKB. Apologies ensued.

barker's picture

I had forgotten

I had forgotten all about that. In fact, I couldn't tell you what story you objected to. I'm getting old.

It's funny. Public officials and government agencies sometimes do things people consider good and sometimes do things people consider bad. When we report on the former, we're in their pocket; when we report on the latter, we're out to get them. In reality, we're just reporting.

Joe328's picture

The comments have move away

The comments have move away from the homeless needs. Some of these people are homeless because of government regulations or lack of. When the homeless camp was razed recently many lost their brith certificate, marriage certificate, and social security card that were stored there. Some have an income but can't access it without a bank account for automatic deposit, home address, or government issued photo ID. Lost birth certificates are hard to obtain without a home address, and even harder for some who were adopted, especially in another state under a name they never knew. Too many of our recent laws had good intentions, but downside was seldom considered.

michael kaplan's picture

You're absolutely right.

You're absolutely right. These issues should be addressed to Mayor Kincannon, Becky Wade, and Michael Dunthorn who oversee homeless policy. As simple as these tent dwellings were, they were homes to 100 people (according to City estimates). Destroying these homes put another 100 people homeless.

sobi's picture

This isn't just about semantics.

As simple as these tent dwellings were, they were homes to 100 people (according to City estimates). Destroying these homes put another 100 people homeless.

You might just as well say that a blanket spread out in a doorway or a tarp suspended from trees in a floodplain or a pile of soiled sleeping bags wadded up in a parking garage are homes as say that a tent pitched on public land is a home. None of these statements are true.

People who are living in conditions like these are homeless, as are people who reside in places like KARM's shelter. The people dispersed from Blackstock were homeless while they were camping there; they were not "put" homeless by their eviction. When you suggest that Blackstock was anything other than a terrible kind of default expedient, you condescend to people who deserve to have their predicament addressed honestly.

I'm no retired professor of architecture, and maybe I'm not sufficiently sophisticated, but if we adopt your apparent way of thinking and talking about what a home is, all we need to do to end homelessness is to identify us some brownfields and open 'em up to whatever. Tents pitched, tarps stretched, blankets down, problem solved, right?

Joe328's picture

You missed his point!

A tent or cardboard box is a roof over ones head, which makes it their home for now. It's where they keep what few personal belongings and important papers, such as birth certificate, marriage records, DD214 (military discharge), Veterans Administration records, and much more. When the City razed their HOMES without any plans to preserve their records or provide a place to sleep, it's no different than someone nice mansion burning with all their personal belongings and records inside. In closing, a home is where you lay your head, no matter how simple it is.

sobi's picture


In closing, a home is where you lay your head, no matter how simple it is.

Then there's no such thing as homelessness.

Simple is best, I reckon. I'm delighted that we've finally solved that problem. It had dogged us for far too long.

JaHu's picture

Is there any abandoned

Is there any abandoned warehouses or one the city could lease through the winter for the homeless to set their tents up in?

michael kaplan's picture

What's missing from this

What's missing from this discussion - and the public discussion as well - are the voices and opinions of those who were living at Blackstock. Prior to the City Council meeting of October 6 and the demolition of October 8, there were some protests at the site, and Council Member Parker tried to intervene on behalf of those living there. Compass quoted comments from two of the residents of the camp. Four citizens spoke against the demolition of the camps at the October 6 meeting.

Joe328's picture

The topic is about City

The topic is about City Council's plans to raze the Blackstock camp with no plan to locate the families to safer location. While they are not living the City's definition of a "home", they do have minimum shelters to protect them from the natures elements. City Council's plan to destroy their minimum shelters so they will scatter through the city where no one will notice, is morally wrong. Arguing over the definition of "home" to justify the destruction of their only shelter without providing immediate housing is unethical. Before destroying their shelters, City Council should have a plan and discuss it with the homeless to ensure they understand their options. Some of the homeless have paid taxes most their lives, they deserve to have a voice in government.

sobi's picture

Okay. But.

City Council's plan to destroy their minimum shelters so they will scatter through the city where no one will notice, is morally wrong.

Really? You imply that the City took this action specifically to disperse people from Blackstock, just so that would hide the fact that we have some homeless people hereabouts. Seems a bit fanciful. I don't know how you'd know this about council members' motives, and I don't possess the kind of insight necessary to make that kind of judgement, which strikes me as awfully cynical. I also am not going to weigh in on whether or not what the City did was morally right or wrong. I think the moral concern here is located elsewhere.

Arguing over the definition of "home" to justify the destruction of their only shelter without providing immediate housing is unethical.

Not so. First of all, nobody, least of all me, is arguing that just because shelter is temporary, its destruction is justifiable. Second, and you might not like this despite the fact that it's true, it is absurd to suggest that the public (or any member of the public) is obligated to provide services of any kind, including housing, because the public evicts people who are using public land without the right to use it. Illegal use or taking of a resource doesn't mean that the owner of the resource incurs some extra duty. Think about what you're saying. If I shoplift a burrito at a Kenjo, does the manager owe me some microwave time so I can heat it up before I leave, and maybe a Coke from the fountain?

Before destroying their shelters, City Council should have a plan and discuss it with the homeless to ensure they understand their options. Some of the homeless have paid taxes most their lives, they deserve to have a voice in government.

Okay. Do you know that this did not happen? Do you think that homeless people in Knoxville don't already know about the services that are available to them? Do you believe that there are not people who do outreach work, all the time, among people who are living outside, trying constantly to persuade those people to take advantage of the services available to them? Do you really think anyone at Blackstock was surprised when the area was cleared?

You and Kaplan, and plenty of others here seem to miss that at its root, the monster in the room is insufficient availability of adequate housing that's cheap enough for really poor people to afford it. If, instead of trying to justify and expand terrible, eminently-foreseeable chaos like what was going on at Blackstock, you would focus your prodigious energies on addressing that one glaring issue, and bring enough of your friends along with you, some headway could be made and some suffering abated. That's the ethics and the moral concern of this thing.

That's also my opinion. Now. Immediately make it yours.

barker's picture


The city did not "raze" or "destroy" the tents at Blackstock. They told residents they would have to move. They encouraged them, as they always do, to go into shelters or otherwise engage in the system. VMC's low-barrier shelter and KARM are a stone's throw from Blackstock and could be seen from the tents.

Those who did not seek help moved themselves and their belongings to other places. It's not like KPD swept in with torches in the middle of the night and set everything ablaze.

You can agree or disagree with the city's policy, but it does no one any good to mischaracterize what happened.

Joe328's picture

Here is a link to a WVLT

Here is a link to a WVLT story on the bulldozing of homeless camp. (link...)

michael kaplan's picture

Yep. Pretty brutal.

Yep. Pretty brutal.

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