Housing for Homeless at Lakeshore Angers Some Powerful Folks

Oops. The feces has hit the oscillating cooling device in Knoxville's 37919 area code.

One of the sites being considered for up to 50 units of public housing for the chronically homeless is property at Lakeshore Park on Lyons View Pike.

Lyons View is a road between Kingston Pike and Northshore Drive, the site of million-dollar homes on a bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. It is the most prestigious address in Knoxville, with the possible exception of nearby Cherokee Boulevard. The neighborhood served by Lakeshore Park contains hundreds of checkbooks that have been opened for Mayor Bill Haslam's gubernatorial campaign. It also contains a couple of potential mayoral candidates for the post-Haslam era. It is the neighborhood of former Mayor Victor Ashe, who considers Lakeshore Park one of his crowning achievements. It is the neighborhood of Mayor Haslam and his brother Jimmy. It also includes park proponents, boosters and protectors Tom McAdams and Caesar Stair, two of the most powerful and socially connected attorneys in Knoxville.

(The city struck a deal with the state to get title to 17 acres beside the Lakeshore Mental Health facility on Lyons View Pike. The land had been reserved for a veterans cemetery, but the cemetery will now move to a larger site off John Sevier Highway.)

I have perused a file in the city law director's office under a freedom of information request. The behind-the-scenes anger is evident.

Ashe sent Jon Lawler, the head of the 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, an e-mail asking for a briefing on the Lakeshore plan. Lawler blew off a meeting, telling Ashe his specific questions would not be addressed until much further along in the process and there was no point in discussing it for now. Lawler said he would call him.

In an e-mail to Mayor Haslam, Lawler accuses McAdams of being on a "personal crusade to block our efforts... at ‘his park'."

In another e-mail, Lawler is asked if "Bill (Haslam) has spoken w/his brother, Tom (McAdams) and Caesar (Stair) et. al." Lawler e-mails Haslam to ask him. Haslam replies that he had spoken to his brother James about the plan and that Ashe has informed McAdams.

Lawler and Haslam are to be commended for their even-handedness in picking the Lakeshore site. If they are asking residents of South Knoxville and Teaberry Lane in West Knoxville to accept housing for the chronically homeless, then why should they exempt the richest zip code in Knoxville? Haslam has demonstrated that he is willing to anger his supporters, neighbors, and friends to support the concept.

There will be a community meeting tonight (Thursday) at Arnstein Jewish Community Center. A similar facility on Teaberry Lane has been canceled, but there will be a discussion about what would be involved when another site is found. City Policy Director Bill Lyons has been made the point person to hold public hearings on the projects. When a site is found in West Knoxville it will be crucial for the continuation of the on-going effort to disperse downtown's homeless into affordable housing around the city.

Then the issue will go before City Council and a council vote on the site will occur with the prospect of Lakeshore coming along down the road looming large. The Lakeshore proposal won't come to fruition until the next mayor is in office. And if the next mayor needs the support of the 37919 zip code to get elected you can be sure this will be a major issue. And some members of City Council are eying a race for mayor.

Bill Lyons guided the public process through Market Square and downtown redevelopment. He will need all his skills to negotiate his way through this issue.

Haslam and Lawler may be the two most politically naïve public figures in Knoxville. Putting homeless people in permanent housing at Lakeshore is certainly consistent with their egalitarian beliefs and the ethos of their prayer group. But given the anger of some very powerful folks in 37919, the decision to include Lakeshore may put the entire plan to disperse the homeless into permanent housing at risk.