Residents of the Fort Negley tent city community marched and protested the city's crack down on camping restrictions.
At 11 p.m. Friday Metro Police had orders to shut down the homeless campsite at Fort Negley. It’s a place people have lived in tents for years, and while it’s not exactly legal, Metro has looked the other way to give campers time to find other housing.
The deadline sparked a protest and rally Friday afternoon at Public Square Park. The group said the handful of campers still living at Fort Negley should get to stay there until the city finds them another place to live.
"I wouldn't want to be there permanently but in the meantime between time it's the only place to go," said Fort NEgley resident Raheim Howard.
Supporters believe the campers shouldn’t be criminalized for being homeless and that this one example sheds light on the greater housing problem facing tens of thousands of people who can no longer afford to live in Nashville.
Ralliers say Fort Negley one example in larger affordable housing issue in Nashville pic.twitter.com/aT0lZUT2gJ
— Rebecca Schleicher (@NC5_RSchleicher) April 15, 2016
"There's 500 people that have housing vouchers from MDHA that can't find a place to use them. We spend half of our time not actually doing homeless outreach but looking for housing for people," said Ingrid McIntyre with Open Table.
But city leaders said after two years of negotiations and pushing the deadline to close the campsite, it is time. They've worked with Green Street Church, Room at the Inn and the Rescue Mission to try to place everyone still living at the campsite.
"Tonight, our Metro Parks will once again enforce the hours of operation at Fort Negley, but will do so with a compassionate, service-oriented approach that seeks to work with those living there to find alternative places to live – helping to transport them to shelters and offering to store their belongings during the transition process," said Mayor Megan Barry in a press release.
She added “we do not intend to forcibly remove any individuals if they are showing a good faith effort to work with us to find an alternative place to live."
But many at the campsite don't want to live in a shelter.
"I wouldn't even send my worst enemy to a shelter," Howard said, "it's nasty you got people sneezing, coughing, TB's running through there you got bed bugs I've been ate up by bed bugs there." He says he likes the peacefulness of the park and the outdoors.
Metro considers the campsite a health and safety hazard, with police responding to 140 calls in the last six months alone. In that time Metro employees removed four tons of garbage.
When asked what he plans to do, Howard said "pray. That's all I can do," as he works to find a more permanent place to live.