March 4, 2014, Nashville, TN—Faith leaders will join with homeless advocates from the Nashville Homeless Organizing Coalition (NHOC) to celebrate an Ash Wednesday service, March 5th, at 8:00 a.m. on the steps leading up to the War Memorial Plaza. They invite all to gather as a community to participate in a liturgy of mourning and repentance for those suffering under the weight of homelessness and poverty. They call all to penitent reflection and action to remedy unjust laws and policies that negatively and disproportionately affect the poor and homeless, and to urge support for the Compassionate Assistance and Right to Exist (CARE) Act now before the legislature (HB2430/SB2453). They will also challenge legislators and all people of conscience to give up their homes for a night during Lent to gain a better understanding of the hardships faced by people experiencing homelessness.* They ask, what would Jesus, or a person of conscience in your faith tradition, do for the homeless and dispossessed? Would he call for poverty to be treated with jails and fines, or with compassionate assistance?
Local advocates are heartened that, by introducing the CARE Act, the legislature is taking the first steps to ensure that the rights of faith groups and our most vulnerable neighbors are protected. If passed, it will save taxpayers money, empower law enforcement to focus on reducing crime rather than treating poverty as a criminal justice problem, and empower faith groups and others to work toward ending homelessness through providing needed assistance, services, and housing.
Tennessee has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation and lacks adequate housing and shelter space to accommodate all of the men, women, and children in need. Across the state, more than 16,000 school children are homeless, and 36% of the rural homeless are between 18 and 24. In Nashville alone, it is estimated that there are over 4,000 homeless adults and over 2,800 homeless school children, yet there are less than 1,700 shelter and transitional housing beds on any given night. Furthermore, during 2013, over 60 people who experienced homelessness died in Nashville. Preventing groups from helping the un-housed and criminalizing acts of daily living is not the answer. The CARE Act will help to ensure that Tennesseans will be free to continue to assist members of our community as they strive to overcome poverty, and that poverty and homelessness will be treated as a social service issue, rather than a criminal justice one.
*NHOC will host an “Urban Plunge” on Friday, March 21st for all those willing to participate. More details can be found at www.nashvillehomelessorganizing.com under “Projects.”