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602 S. Gay Street
Knoxville, TN 37902
Over the last couple of weeks, an encampment has been growing under the interstate viaducts on Blackstock Avenue. A brilliant space for sleeping and keeping a few belongings, the ledges where the roadbed meets the earth provide perfect sleeping compartments, separated by the monumental joists that provide a small shelf to either side. I pass on my bicycle frequently, and I smile at the ingenuity but worry a bit what the people there might do when it starts getting colder at night.
This morning when I biked past, everyone and everything was gone.
After extending inquiry to a couple of resources, what I feared was confirmed: the Knoxville Police Department had swept the camp, like these human beings were dirt or explosives, hardly giving the individuals there time to collect their things.
Apparently there is a city ordinance prohibiting sleeping in public spaces; where, I ask, are they going to sleep? If there are more community members without homes than there are beds in the shelters, or if the shelters require them to meet certain criteria to sleep there, where will they lay their heads? Will we continue to marginalize them out of existence? Will we send them to detention camps as we have others we have pigeonholed as criminals?
I take solace in knowing there are other places in the city where they can sleep. I will not mention them, in case someone reading this might get wind of a guarded secret.
This ordinance is a symptom of a national disease that says “your right to exist, to sleep and sit in public space, is trumped by my right to a simulated and non-confrontational aesthetic urban landscape.” It smacks of the kind of exchange value of the urban landscape that generally supersedes its use value (referencing terms from Henri Lefebvre and Don Mitchell). In seeking to provide a seamless consumer experience, we drive out otherness and marginalize diversity. Why can’t people sleep under the bridges? What if some sort of disaster at my living place left me without a bed? I’d want somewhere like that to stay the night, as opposed to roaming the streets in sleep-deprived stupor.
Where is this going, Knoxville?