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Taxpayer boondoggle sits in storage during Nashville homeless crisis

Brookmeade Park homeless camp in West Nashville (Photo: FOX 17 News)
Brookmeade Park homeless camp in West Nashville (Photo: FOX 17 News)
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In the High Cost of Homelessness, Stacy Case is tracking a taxpayer boondoggle, $1.2 million dollars in homeless pallet pods you bought sitting in storage for the eighth month in a row.

A Metro councilmember steps up with a plan to clear the Brookmeade Park Homeless Encampment, and even she doesn’t understand why city leaders refuse to use these emergency pods.

There's plenty of talk about the homeless problem, but Councilwoman Mary Carolyn Roberts wants to talk about the solution.

Roberts says, “I suggested we move them to the two thousand acres I have out by the Tennessee State Prison.”

Councilwoman Roberts is referring to this vacant city owned land, known as Cockrill Bend Park. An idea she first floated four years ago when she was on the Homeless Commission. “This is something we have to get in front of and if land is the issue, I have a lot of it,” says Roberts.

Cockrill Bend Park is in an overgrown, remote industrial area flanked by Goodwill, John C. Tune Airport and a prison.

It's the same area Bellevue's Rebecca Lowe presented to the city as an optimum place to relocate more than 100 homeless people from Brookmeade Park. She asked Nashville leaders to use the homeless pods you paid $1.2 million dollars for to create a triage village with mental health, drug addiction, job services and more, like so many other cities are already doing.

Since Lowe made that recommendation last year, Harriet Wallace with the Homeless Impact Division says they’ve made progress adding,

“In January 2022, our count was roughly 80 people. As of April, we recorded about 45 "long term" residents living in Brookmeade. I also want to note that many of them are already in our Coordinated Entry system and on their way to stable housing environments. Please note that the population there can be fluid and appear to be more than that as some come in and out to visit, but for those who set up their living location there, we have roughly 45 residents.”

The Reclaim Brookmeade Park group says they continue to see new faces and there’s nothing in place to keep new homeless people from gravitating there since it’s become an established homeless encampment for more than a decade.

Last fall when Lowe made the recommendation for a managed homeless encampment at Cockrill Bend she asked Nashville leaders to use the homeless pods you paid $1.2 million dollars for to create a triage village with mental health, drug addiction, job services and more like so many other cities are already doing.

However, as FOX 17 News has shown you in now, seven investigations, city leaders are keeping the pods in storage, not using them once in the eight months they've been here.

Dede Byrd who lives in Bellevue and is with the grassroots group, Reclaim Brookmeade Park and Greenway says, “Let's talk about the pods for a minute. We know where they are. We know they're available.”

Becky Lowe says, “It sounds like someone has an ulterior motive or they're just lazy.”

Councilwoman Roberts says she didn’t know about the pods adding, “Well, unbeknownst to me that was a shocking revelation. I think if those pods are available, this is the time to utilize them.”

Since February, Stacy Case has been emailing, calling and visiting the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) asking to see the pods and a plan for using them to address our homeless crisis. Councilwoman Roberts affirms, “It is a crisis.”

Once again, in an email asking OEM that same question. Is this a crisis? Why not use the emergency pods you have sitting in storage to help in this crisis?

So far, no one from OEM answered FOX 17 News' questions directly, but Wednesday morning, Chief Jay Servais with the Homeless Impact Division did answer a former homeless person Wendell Segroves. Segroves who now sits on the Continuum of Care board and wants to know why the pods aren't being used.

Chief Servais says, “The portable buildings are not ready to be used yet. That gets out there and it's not ready to be used. We're still waiting for state codes to sign off on that so we can use that as an option, but they were bought for emergency sheltering for storms and tornadoes and things like that.”

Segroves interjects, "Covid and now they're sitting there being wasted and not being used when they could be and I just don't understand that. I don't believe in wasting money."

Servais answers, “Me neither, very frustrating isn't it.”

There are fires, violence, drug dealing, overdoses and yes deaths here. Lowe adds, “Just last week there was someone found DOA in our park and at the same time one of our members was tending to someone over here in the parking lot and security was fearful she had died.”

It's the same scenario day in and day out with our cameras capturing tragedy unfold. “This is absolutely a humanitarian crisis in there,” says Lowe.

Byrd adds, “We had a toddler in the park once again, an endangered child. This is a Metro Public Park and Greenway. This is not transitional housing. This is not rapid rehousing. You shouldn't have to live in this park in these conditions when you live in America. You live in the ‘IT’ city.” She concludes, “ and we have pods in storage.”

The Homeless Impact Division sent a statement Wednesday night saying the mayor has committed an unprecedented $50 million to help with the homeless issue.

Spokeswoman Harriet Wallace goes on to clarify, “The pods in question were provided for emergency use during Covid, and the state has not authorized their use for other purposes.”


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For more reports like this on the High Cost of Homelessness, click here.

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