Wharton: Plan for Memphis' homeless has been misunderstood - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Wharton: Plan for Memphis' homeless has been misunderstood

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Memphis Mayor A C Wharton says efforts to eradicate homelessness across the city have been taken the wrong way.

Monday, Wharton said misinformation is circulating about his new plan to address the homeless.

"We have no quote-sweeps-closed-quote," he said.

In interviews and in a written statement, Wharton said the city is not deploying police officers to arrest the homeless.  Rather, he's asking service providers to help find housing for those who can't afford the six to eight dollars per night to stay at a shelter.

The officers will accompany the providers.

"The effort will begin to find suitable, protective and humane accommodations," Wharton said.

Wharton said he supports the idea of a taxpayer-funded, city-run homeless shelter, saying if Memphis can house hurricane victims at a moment's notice, the city should help its own homeless residents.

"It really got taken out of context what we really were trying to do," he said.

This Wednesday, according to Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin, teams of service providers and officers will go to homeless encampments in Midtown and Downtown.  There, they will give people seven-days notice to connect with homeless groups to locate housing out of the cold and under a roof.

Wharton said there is a difference between homelessness and lawlessness.
    
"You can't allow homelessness to become a license to flout the law," he said.

Wharton added there's a big difference between those who panhandle for a living and those who can't afford shelter.  He said the city's vacant school buildings could be used for homeless housing, instead of having people live in encampments without running water and electricity.

 


 

Statement from Mayor A C Wharton:

"Given the recent shift in temperatures, finding a humane, responsible, proactive way to meet the needs of our city's homeless population has obviously become a major priority. Starting this week, Colonel Billy Garrett of the Memphis Police Department and his officers will be working to connect individuals and families in need with local service providers who can help them. This is a new, above-and-beyond collaboration with the Hospitality Hub and other service providers to make sure that we are accommodating and helping as many homeless individuals as possible. My staff is working with the Memphis Police Department and local service providers to ensure we remain coordinated in our efforts to help the homeless.

"I want to assure every citizen and every concerned party that homeless individuals are in no way going to be targets of a 'sweep' or a 'round-up.' There will be no 'crack down' on homeless people, as some have claimed. Any action that is being taken by the Memphis Police Department will be protective, proactive, and humane. I will tolerate nothing less.

"It must be noted that removing illegal dwellings and encampments is something that is done on a regular basis by the MPD. However, we recognize that this alone is not a solution. Connecting Memphians in need with services that can truly help them must be part of the process.

"Let me be clear: the City of Memphis has no fight with our city's poor and homeless citizens; we are, however, at war with the conditions that cause these individuals and families to go without shelter. Obviously there is no easy and quick solution to the pernicious and critical problem of poverty. Ending the crisis of homeless will only come about through the improvement of our schools, an increase in college attainment and appropriate job training programs, and the continued development of our local economy. No one is more concerned about this problem than I am, and no one is working harder on these fronts than my staff, my Division Directors, and me."

In November, the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development and Partners for the Homeless officially launched a new $4.2 million effort aimed at preventing Shelby County residents from becoming literally homeless or to quickly re-house those who are already homeless (in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets.)

The project includes four key elements that are new to the region:

1) A 24-hour hotline to respond to families in Shelby County who are homeless and seeking shelter;

2) A central assessment and intake operated by MIFA that connects homeless and imminently homeless households with the most appropriate housing resources;

3) Financial assistance and supportive services to prevent evictions or rapidly re-house those who are already homeless;

4) Mediation services and access to public benefit programs including Food Stamps, Families First, Medicaid, etc.


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