Log in Subscribe

Homeless Task Force looking at solutions

By ZOË WATKINS - zwatkins@t-g.com
Posted 3/18/23

The joint city and county Homeless Task Force met Tuesday to start establishing a plan for deterring violent offenders from public areas and providing resources for both victims and the homeless.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Homeless Task Force looking at solutions


The joint city and county Homeless Task Force met Tuesday to start establishing a plan for deterring violent offenders from public areas and providing resources for both victims and the homeless.

Members of the task force briefly discussed the differences between violence and harassment and nuisances. According to Shelbyville police officer Letisa Diaz, there are very few violent offenders in Shelbyville.

“Me being a law enforcement officer, if you tell me somebody’s a violent offender, I’m thinking they’re out here assaulting somebody; they’re attempting to rape somebody. That’s just not the case with a large majority,” said Diaz. Most jail intake lists show the majority are taken in for violation of probation, public intoxication, and trespassing, according to Diaz.

The issue, however, is getting legal aid for police to utilize when someone is being harassed by a homeless person. That is, they can’t just take someone into custody because they’re on a public sidewalk.

“A homeless person has just as much right to walk on those sidewalks as you or I,” said Zoning Director Chris White. “The problem is they’re not just walking on the sidewalks. They’re peeing on the sidewalks. They’re cussing and using expletives, harassing people. They scare customers away from merchants. They go into the business’ restrooms and make a mess. They don’t go in with the intention of buying anything.”

Commissioner Drew Hooker defined loitering as going against the “intended use” of an area, which is language they would like to put in a possible resolution. “The city council has a little bit different power and ability than the county commission does. They have the ability to physically perform and create law. We do not have that ability,” said Hooker.

Officer Diaz had several suggestions for business to implement in the meantime, such as putting up “No Loitering/Trespassing” signs and not allowing for password-free wi-fi or uncovered outlet plugs or water taps.

“An employee of a store can call us and have us remove a person, and if they wish to have a person banned from the store, we’ll take care of that as well. We’ll make sure if they’re found back on that property, they’ll go to jail for trespassing,” said Diaz.

Drug abuse

Drug abuse is a major component of this homelessness cycle. “Part of the problem with violent offenders is probably mental health and/or drug addiction, or a combination of both,” said member Kellee Smith, Juvenile Detention Director.

Many members agreed that prevention starts in education, in the public schools. They would like to start by reimplementing the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program or LEADS (Law Enforcement Against Drugs).

This prompted the discussion about the role of School Resource Officers in schools as “more than just security guards.”   

Often, such programs require a dedicated SRO in that position who would be available to be consistent even during emergencies.

As the one who wrote the contract between the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office and the Board of Education for the first SRO program, White added that teaching students about drug abuse prevention is in the SRO job description. But SROs began to acquire more responsibilities that prevented them from dedicating class time to teaching against drugs, according to White.

“If we’re getting away from the original concept of the SRO program, we need to reign it back in…and that is to have somebody on campus all the time that is not just a cop but is a friend,” said White.

Centralized resource

The members also concluded that there needs to be a central resource for both the homeless and people affected by the homeless to utilize.

“What I keep hearing—the commonalities of each of these communities dealing with it—is they need to identify a central hub,” said Hooker. For example, Shelbyville has a soup kitchen, warming shelters, law enforcement, and mental health resources but no one central source to go to.

“We’ve got plenty of resources to help but we need a point person. They’re going to need a specific skillset to deal with the different levels that we have,” said member Amy Peterson from the Bedford County Zoning Office. 

According to statistics from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are about 10,500 homeless people across the state of Tennessee. White said many homeless people in Shelbyville are being brought from outside areas, while Commissioner Bill Anderson, who has a business near downtown on North Main, said the homeless he has talked to often say they are from Davidson County.

Pastor Jeff Rasnick of First Baptist Church added, “I don’t think the intent of anybody here is here to say, ‘Just get them away from me…’ I think this needs to be a holistic, bigger approach. So, we’ve got to be thinking about how to encourage the next ring that they’ll go to.”

The Homeless Task Force meetings are open to the public, and the public is encouraged to attend. The next meeting will be Tuesday, April 11, at 5:15 p.m. in the Bedford County Courthouse Community Room.