Two by two, protestors marched from Morris Park down North Orleans Street and gathered at the steps of the Memphis Housing Authority last Thursday afternoon, holding signs that read “access is a civil right” and chanting “No justice, no peace.” As MHA representatives arrived outside, they were met by homeless advocates kneeling in prayer led by Rev. NaKeesha Davis of St. James A.M.E. Church.
“God, we pray today that you will fill the hearts of all mankind with the fire of love and desire to ensure justice for everyone,” Davis said. “For those who don’t have a voice .. for those who have been pushed aside.”
Organized by Mid-South Peace and Justice Center's (MSPJC) Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality (H.O.P.E.) advocacy group, about 30 people — including members of OUTMemphis and Memphis Center of Independent Living (MCIL) — rallied at Morris park to address issues affecting the homeless community. Criticizing the Memphis City Council’s effort to curb panhandling, H.O.P.E. organizers say there are no free shelters for men, no inclusive shelters for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and less than 70 beds in the city for women without children. Though a date had not been set by press time, MHA Executive Director Marcia Lewis and H.O.P.E. coordinator Tamara Hendrix agreed to meet next week.
Mee-Mee Scruggs, a homeless transgender woman, said she found shelter in a rooming house, but can barely afford rent. After spending three days in jail for driving without a license, Scruggs said her landlord ordered her to pay a $56 late fee. In order to make ends meet, according to Scruggs, she demeans herself and takes risks like driving with no identification.
“I have to do a lot of uncalled for stuff to pay my rent,” Scruggs said. “I have to go out here in the streets and jump in cars with different men.”
H.O.P.E. organizers kneel in prayer outside of the Memphis Housing Authority.
Worst-case needs, spurred by high rent burdens and inadequate housing, affected 46 percent of non family households, 43 percent of other family households, and 40 percent of families with children, according to a 2013 report from the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Department.
With the impending demolition of the Foote Homes, as well as the Warren and Tulane apartments, H.O.P.E. members called on Mayor Jim Strickland to delay the process until all residents have been relocated and 448 units of replacement housing are online.
“We can’t afford to lose any housing when we’ve only got 50 units of affordable housing for every 100 people in the city of Memphis who need it,” said Paul Garner, an organizing coordinator with MSPJC.
Housing and Community Development
A map created by Housing and Community Development on August 31 shows the locations of where 453 residents from Warren and Tulane apartments, as well as the Foote Homes, have relocated. “Two or three weeks have passed and folks are looking for housing every day,” said Director Paul Young, noting that more residents have moved since that date.
The demolition will occur in phases, Lewis said, with the first scheduled for October 10 and the second at the end of January. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said there’s no plan to delay the demolition. But it will only happen after all residents are relocated, and, according to Lewis, the housing authority is on schedule.
“Although people are still living there, they are already going through relocation and are going through various phases,” Lewis said. “We’re talking about a process that is moving as we speak … It’s not going to be demolished while people are living there. It just doesn’t work like that.”
On the site of Foote Homes, 712 units of new mixed income housing will replace the current 420 units, said Memphis Housing and Community Development Director Paul Young. At least 480 of those units will be replacement units to serve families eligible for public housing.
HCD is searching for a developer to rehabilitate the Warren and Tulane apartment complexes, which were privately owned developments, Young said. Per an agreement with HUD, the land must be used for housing.
“We know that housing is a dramatic need,” Young said. “We have essentially 700 families who are looking for housing or will be over the next couple of months. We want to get as many units online as possible.”