Memphis, TN – The Manna house, a hospitality hot spot for people on the streets, provides hot showers, clothes, coffee and conversation, inside a group of forty or more homeless individuals are smiling. Here they are warm and find a sense of security every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday morning. Several of them ask to sing into the mic, some recite poetry, but no one provides their real name. The Manna house is one of 53 programs throughout the city, this one like the majority of the others is limited though to the help it can provide. Dr. Peter Gathje is co-director of the Manna House, he says each facility is different in their approach and ability to assist people on the streets, but as of right now, there is not one single permanent shelter within the city that can provide free housing for more than 3 consecutive nights. Gathje says there is a lot of pressure on the Memphis Police Department and Private Security to push the lower income and homeless populations out of the downtown area.
Larry Bloom is the public safety coordinator for the City Center Commission. He says his private security force deals with situations the Memphis Police Department shouldn't have to, like the aggressive panhandling and quality of life crimes. Those include violations of the open container law, disorderly conduct, aggressive language as well as other offenses. He says no one is given preference in protection and that everyone is treated equally.
Bloom and Partner's for the Homeless Director Pat Morgan say the downtown area has implemented a move-a-long approach. Morgan has been working with the homeless more than twenty years. She says she would give her last penny to a homeless person with a mental illness but wouldn't give a dime to someone with an addition. Morgan claims she was once the world's biggest enabler, now she and others downtown, say that if you don't give the panhandlers money they will go somewhere else and indeed they are. Jacob Flowers is with the Mid-south Peace and Justice Center. He claims they are being moved from their resources, like shelters and re-hab centers downtown, into midtown. Flowers says the downtown area is the safest precinct in the city of Memphis and the tax dollars that are spent patrolling the quality of life crimes should be used elsewhere.
Flowers says there is a preference for who is required to uphold the law. Until last Thursday a video created by a downtown resident glorifying the luxeries of downtown life was displayed on the City Center Commission's website. The video included footage of the producer's friends enjoying their drinks outside while topping the beverage off with liquor. Flowers says unlike these downtowners, the homeless don't have a couch to sit on inside to consume their beverage, yet they are reprimanded while others are not.
Oldschool has been living on the streets for 3 years. He says he and other veterans on the street have it figured out, he knows when and where to always find a free meal. His trouble is finding a place to rest his head.
Pat Morgan says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approximately $1.2 billion dollars to disperse nation wide each year to help homeless people. Memphis receives approximately 4.8 million dollars of this money each year. Localities asking for those dollars are required to conduct a street and shelter count in one 24-hour period the last week of January. Morgan says the count that took place in 2007 found 744,000 homeless people--44 percent of which were unsheltered. Memphis has on any given day, approximately1,800 homeless people, with less than half of a percent unsheltered. During the course of a year, data provided by 53 programs reflects that 7,500 people are served by local shelters, transitional housing programs and permanent supportive housing programs. So why isn't there a 24 hour a day free shelter?
Morgan says there are organizations in town that have been running shelters for years and she listens to them. If you provide free meals and free shelters with no strings attached, the addicts will never get better.
Remember Oldschool, he says while things in Memphis could be better for people like him, there is really only one thing he wishes he could change the most for people not to fear him.