The city of Knoxville has cleared out a large camp of houseless people this week. We spoke via email with comrades from the Knoxville Radical Alliance about these developments.
Q. What happened with the house less camp under the bridge?
A: The houseless encampment under the bridge on Broadway between Ray’s and Salvation Army has been evicted. The city has decided to build a “homeless day park” displacing folx who camped there without housing. Religious charities that offer shelter to these folx often have strict programs that exclude people that work at night, trans people, immigrants and drug users. These shelters are often as dangerous as staying on the street, and for some folx more so. On Monday morning the camp was totally evicted. On Tuesday, fences were erected and they had begun to pave the area where the camp existed. People are not aloud to sit on the sidewalk in front of Salvation Army, and multiple people have been arrested and charged with criminal trespassing for sleeping near the area or appearing to have a “camp.” The surrounding area around the train yard has been stripped of trees and foliage to take away the privacy of the camps there as well. The news of this eviction has been floating around the camp for a while. Many of those who had the opportunity to leave left, while others preferred to stay with the community they had built together.
Q: Where are those people now?
A: It’s hard to say. Certainly some have found temporary housing solutions, while many of the folx we have talked to have no contingency plans and are camping in new locations, often in more dangerous and isolated areas.
Q: Have they been moved because of a development?
A: Many folx who are familiar with gentrification issues and the local houseless community have seen this coming for a while. It started when businesses began to open in the areas outside of the Old City up towards Emory Plaza and Broadway. When the Regas Square tower began construction near the camp, many of us knew it was just a matter of time before the houseless population in the area would come under attack. These over priced “luxury condominiums” come with a detrimental cost to the community: displacing houseless folx, raising rents, driving out old businesses to be replaced with high end retailers, restaurants, and bars that the neighborhoods previous tenants can not afford to patron.
Q: How can people help now?
A: Right now we need to make this issue visible. Show up to city council meetings, talk to folx and document their experiences being houseless in Knoxville, provide direct aid to folx based on their needs, etc. Many of these people have no platform to advocate for themselves, or fear retaliation for doing so. We also need to support harm reduction efforts, such as Positively Living’s Project ACT. With the community in somewhat of a shambles, its hard to coordinate mass organizing that could help more broadly because of the the dispersion of folx around town after the camp was evicted. Talk to the people you see in your neighborhoods and build relationships with them. Listening is the first step in providing mutual aid.
Q: Anything to add?
A: The city of Knoxville has had many attempts to address the housing crisis and all have fallen apart at the hands of big capital and bureaucracy. The “Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness” fell apart and other efforts have proved ineffective for far too many in our community. We must organize autonomously with the houseless community and provide direct mutual aid. When we raise awareness of these issues and establish mutual aid networks the city will be pushed to provide more aid based on the community’s needs, as opposed to the developers they often cave to.
Work in groups if you decide to provide food or supplies to folx directly, and try to stay out of view from police. There is nothing illegal about sharing food or supplies with folx but we’ve heard at least one report of harassment by police while distributing aid.