South Nashville's Glencliff United Methodist Church has cleared all the bureaucratic hurdles to build a cluster of tiny homes for the homeless on its property. The only problem is the neighborhood hates the idea. They’ve hurled insults, fumed on Facebook and threatened to picket church services.
Now, the effort to build these homes has come down to a public relations mission.
At a recent community meeting, a moderator struggled to manage a rowdy crowd, packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the basement of another South Nashville Church. Some spoke in favor of the tiny one-room homes. But most, like Sue Saldana, say that playing host will bring crime and drugs into the neighborhood.
“I am tired of having to apologize for trying to protect my house," Saldana said at the meeting. "They choose to live out there. They burn so many bridges because they stole from their family and they’d rather do drugs.”
Met with cheers for her comments, Donna said anyone who thinks differently is fooling themselves.
“I don’t know what unicorn you’ve been hanging out with, but seriously.”
Leading the plan is Open Table Nashville, a nonprofit group that advocates for homeless and low-income people. They’ve partnered with Glencliff to build the 22 micro homes for homeless people with serious health problems.
The plans, called the Village at Glencliff, sailed through the city approval process. But now it comes down to managing the community reaction. Lindsey Krinks is one of the co-founders of Open Table. She said the vitriol aimed at the homeless is misguided.
“I think a lot of people think that homelessness is a criminal issue," Krinks said. "What we’re saying is 'No. Homelessness is a social issue. It’s an economic issue.'”
Krinks added that it’s even a public health issue.
We’ve had people that have had a double hip replacement and are healing from that under a bridge," Krinks said. "That’s not OK.”
And that’s where the tiny homes come in. Vetted individuals in need of short term housing will heal up at one of the homes. Similar communities have been built in seven other cities, including Seattle, Austin and Portland, Oregon. One study counted at least 13 developments in the works across the country. Nashville’s development is funded entirely by private donations.
In response to the pushback, the nonprofit is forming a community council and lining up a security firm to patrol the site. But there is not much the nonprofit can do to put longtime resident Dayle Ward at ease.
“I have my heart here. So does everybody else in this room," she said. "Why divide this neighborhood? Because you feel your 22 homeless people are more important than everyone in this room? They’re not.”
Open Table is committed to the tiny homes. Now, they may just have to build them and hope the project doesn’t live up to the neighbors’ worst fears.