Gimme Shelter 

Homeless advocates protest, demand better housing and LGBT shelter.

Two by two, protestors marched from Morris Park down North Orleans Street and gathered at the steps of the Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) last week, 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."

About 30 people rallied to address issues affecting the homeless community in an event organized by Mid-South Peace and Justice Center's (MSPJC) Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality (H.O.P.E.) advocacy group, including members of OUTMemphis and Memphis Center for Independent Living.

H.O.P.E. organizers said 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.

MeeMee 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 sells her body.

click to enlarge Housing protest at Memphis Housing Authority - JOSHUA CANNON
  • Joshua Cannon
  • Housing protest at Memphis Housing Authority

"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."

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. The mayor does not plan to delay the demolition, according to a spokesman in his office.

"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 the MSPJC.

The demolition will occur in phases, said MHA director Marcia Lewis, with the first scheduled for October 10th and the second at the end of January. But it will only happen after all residents are relocated, and, according to Lewis, the plan is on schedule.

"Although people are still living there, they are already going through relocation," 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 (HCD) 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.

"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."

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