By Hannah Herner
The Continuum of Care Homeless Planning Council is asking Metro why they weren’t consulted in the city’s plans to address COVID-19 within the community they serve.
The 25 member council serves as the governance board for a collective of organizations in Nashville that serve people experiencing homelessness — they sent a letter and a list of seven recommendations to the Mayor’s Office on May 27. A special task group was created during a Homeless Planning Council meeting on May 13 to put together this communication. At Metro’s urging to only meet for “essential business,” the council had not met since the stay-at-home order began in Nashville in March.
The first recommendation in the letter, which was obtained by The Contributor, is to include a member of the Homeless Planning Council, a member of Metro Social Services Homeless Impact Division and a person who has been homeless to be in on all discussions around the Fairgrounds emergency shelter and Metro’s response to COVID-19 related to people experiencing homelessness.
At the beginning of May, there was an outbreak of the virus at the fairgrounds shelter and others in the city.
“We heard about the creation of a shelter at the Nashville Fairgrounds to address social distancing issues at the Nashville Rescue Mission, and then about the unfortunate, but not surprising, reports that people sheltering at both places had tested positive for COVID-19,” the letter, signed by Homeless Planning Council chair Paula Foster, reads. “As these events unfolded, advocates who work tirelessly with people experiencing homelessness in Nashville were voicing concerns about our city's approach to COVID-19 prevention and care among this vulnerable population. In hindsight, their warnings should have prompted the HPC to ask questions and offer our expertise to the Mayor's Office, the Office of Emergency Management, and others involved in formulating Metro's COVID-19 shelter and quarantine response.”
The Continuum of Care and its Homeless Planning Council was created in compliance with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, while the Homeless Impact Division serves within the Nashville local government Department of Social Services.
Four recommendations fall under “housing and services,” recommending a non-congregate shelter like hotel or dorm rooms for people who do not have a place to live during the COVID-19 outbreak. This section also recommends use of FEMA and CARES Act dollars as well as leveraging outreach workers to get resources to people experiencing homelessness.
The last two recommendations seek to prevent criminal arrest and engage communities of color in addressing racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths. On May 7, a man staying at the Fairgrounds Nashville emergency shelter was arrested after fleeing quarantine.
“This arrest led to mistrust among our homeless neighbors and set back willingness to participate in testing,” the letter reads.
The council looks for a response from the Mayor’s Office by June 1.
“We urge the city to work with us so that we can do even better moving forward,” the letter reads.
We have reached out to Mayor Cooper’s office for comment.
By Hannah Herner
As of May 4, more than 100 people staying at homeless shelters throughout the city tested positive for COVID-19. There are currently 115 people quarantined in the “sick” building at the Fairgrounds Nashville emergency shelter. This is a combined number people who were already staying at the Fairgrounds as well as those who were staying at Nashville Rescue Mission’s downtown campus and at The Salvation Army.
In a press conference on Monday morning, Dr. Alex Jahangir, chair of the metro coronavirus task force, said four positive cases at the Fairgrounds Nashville prompted comprehensive testing of all those staying there as well as at the Nashville Rescue Mission main campus, which was serving as a go-through to the Fairgrounds shelter.
At the fairgrounds, there were 19 positive and 206 negative results. At Nashville Rescue Mission there were 395 tested, with 100 positive, nine indeterminate, 12 still pending and 274 negative. The Salvation Army had six guests who tested positive and were sent to the Fairgrounds Nashville emergency shelter for medical care.
One person who was staying at Nashville Rescue Mission is hospitalized.
We will update this story as it develops.
By Holly Gleason
Editor's note: This article was printed in the September 12, 2016 issue of The Contributor.
"There’s too many volatile things going on in the world,” says John Prine, assessing the fountain of inspiration for the always topical songwriting legend. “It’s always good for journalists, comedians and folk singers.
“This country’s in a very odd place right now, paranoid really... traveling around, talking to strangers. Just saying, ‘Hello. How are you?’ or ‘Nice day, isn’t it?’ People are scared to talk to you.
“I just came back from Canada – and people are so very nice, warm. They don’thave this fear driven into them like we do.”
Considering that Prine, who has two sold-out shows at the Ryman in October and releases “For Better, Or Worse” on Sept. 30, has served in the military overseas, delivered mail, spent time with his grandparents in Kentucky and written songs that capture major truths about the human condition in three minutes, often by illuminating a handful of moments in a few people’s lives; he’s a student of the world around him.
By watching and writing, he’s built a career and a body of work that make us all feel more, well, human. Indeed, those songs earned Prine a 2016 PEN Award alongside equally singular songwriter/artist Tom Waits; though no one brings the empathy to outsiders, lost souls, broken people and the forgotten quite like the Grammy winner from Maywood, Ill.
“Angel From Montgomery” captures the emptiness of a woman ignored in her marriage, while “Sam Stone” considers the junkie Vietnam vet so strung out on the memories he gets strung out and ODs, and “Hello In There” peers on an elderly couple left behind by life. Then there’s “Paradise,” the songlamenting Peabody Coal’s strip-mining in Muhlenberg County, recently vindicated by the Supreme Court in a suit filed by Peabody Coal to have the song removed from pending litigation against them.
With a chuckle, the very first singer/songwriter to ever read his work at the Library of Congress marvels, “All I was trying to do is tell the story about my mom’s hometown! If you were there, you saw the World’s Largest Shovel, tearing up this little town. The Federal Judge said my lyrics not only didn’t defame them, they were the truth... and he went on to quote them in his own summary.”
Not that John Prine ever intended to be a crusader. The aw-shucks Midwesterner is much more live-and-let-live by nature, but his idea of living includes making sure a society grown calloused doesn’t just throw people away. By showing – through the people in the songs – not telling, he’s built a wealth of songs that speaks to those margin dwellers he thinks matter (and occasionally skewer some of the ones he thinks could be doing a better job, like “Fair & Square”’s “Some Humans Aren’t Human”).
Prine was the kind of kid in school who was a dreamer with an active sense of creativity. As he says of the education process, “I really enjoyed English when I had a teacher who knew enough to leave you alone and let you follow your imagination. If they wanted me to memorize verbs, not so much, but if they asked me to write dialogue for two characters on an escalator, I’d go to town.”
On the verge of 70, that strong streak of whimsy and play remains. On “For Better, Or Worse,” Prine teams with another cadre of integrity roots singers to cull the vintage country songbook. After long time duet partner Iris DeMent kicks things off with the bouncy sarcasm of “Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out” — recalling their “In Spite of Ourselves” duet for Billy Bob Thornton’s “Daddy &Them” — Susan Tedeschi, Alison Krauss and Amanda Shires join Prine for “Color of the Blues,” "Falling In Love Again” and “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music.”
“I love singing with girls,” Prine enthuses, as much a fan of the individual vocalists as the vintage country they reclaim. “I could maket hose duet records all day, every day! Opera, all French, Spanish... To ALL The Girls I’ve Sung Before! Because I really like the sound of a guy and a girl going back and forth, you know? I’m not a ‘Bro’ sort of guy.”
Making the endeavor particularly sweet, after the death of his longtime manager, OhBoy! Records has evolved into the family business. His Irish bride Fiona, who once ran U2’s Windmill Studios, now serves as his manager, and son Jody stepped in to run the label.
“That’s what I’m really working for now,” he admits. “Everything I do is for the kids andthe grandkids, which feels nice... And I’ve got my family helping with the business. In fact,Fiona’s got me working harder than ever!”
“For Better, Or Worse” boasts its share of CMA Female Vocalists of the Year with Krauss, Miranda Lambert, Kathy Mattea andLee Ann Womack. It also includes Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves, critics’ faves Holly Williams, Morgane Stapleton and the lovely Fiona Prine.
“When this started, Fiona and Jody told me I was doing the fourth side of 'In Spite of Ourselves' for vinyl, so I did five songs,” Prine confides. “And then they said, ‘If you do another nine, we’re going to make it its own release.’ How do you argue with that thinking?”
Prine has always been sympatico with women. Whether it’s the past her prime barfly looking for love in “The Oldest Baby in the World,” the heroine of “Angel from Montgomery" or the heavy girl with the oddball beau in “Donald & Lydia,” he tempers his vision oft hose slightly broken females with kindness, awareness and a strong dose of empathy.
"Life’s that way, and who’s to say?” Prine says of the women in his songs. “(Angel)’s hus-band wasn’t abusive to her, he just didn’t talk much or pay her any attention, and it quietly drove her crazy – and back then people didn’t want to get divorced because of the kids or the stigma.
“I always thought I was writing more observations, anyway. The songs were the way people lived, how it looked to me, felt to me, smelled. And a lot of these songs, too, are about relationships, not so much man and woman, but more man to man or person to person.”
Discovered by Kris Kristofferson, when Prine’s best friend Steve Goodman opened for the man who wrote “Help Me Make It ThroughThe Night” and “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down,” the soon-to-be-movie star flew the pair of Chicago folkies to New York where they signed to big time record deals. Looking back, Prine marvels at how quickly he went from in-visible mailman to being proclaimed “the new Dylan,” losing his ability to observe unnoticed.
Still, he’s done OK. Twenty albums – not including retrospectives – later, Prine remains a teller of truths and an impaler of, well, jerks. Getting ready to meet a friend at the GoldenCue for Happy Hour – “What happier place is there? All that neon just brings out the lies in people,” he says of the soon-to-be-closed billiards parlor in the Melrose neighborhood –he talks politics tempered with common sense.
“I don’t want to pick on one person,” Prine says. “I like to let people draw their own conclusions. Part of what the listener gets from the songs – that’s part of the song, what they bring to it. And I never want to hit people over the head, but maybe give them something they’ve seen before, maybe in different colors or another way. When you do that, they might see things differently.”
Pausing, his voice drops a little. While ever a gentleman, that doesn’t mean he’s wide-eyed and believes all people’s intentions mirror his.
“I’m opinionated as anybody. I see people and envision what their life is like. I might be totally wrong, but as a writer, I try to come up with a good story. Raw imagination and good instincts might surprise you.”
He certainly wouldn’t have imagined play-ing the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks at the Grand Canyon with EmmylouHarris and President Obama. Nor would he have envisioned “In Spite of Ourselves” being the song that reunited Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog.
“Loads of people write me letters they got married to that song,” he says about the song that paints relationships in teeny, but exceedingly accurate detail. “But Kermit andMiss Piggy? It was the first time they talked together in over a year! They had to change a few words, but they sang it – and it brought them together.”
With a gleam in his eye, Prine confides, “People say Jack White did it, hanging with Kermit and talking about women. But I know it was the song that broke the ice.”
Merriment is something Prine cherishes. After three bouts with cancer, he takes every moment seriously. Wherever he is, he hopes to find the best part of it – and he also believes that to honor being alive, one must be true to the world around them, leave it a better place. The craggy-voiced songwriter with the proclivity for old time music with bluegrass undertones has done charity shows for RoomIn The Inn, Thistle Farms and Campaign for a Landmine Free World. He’s also a big fan of The Contributor, and all it gives back to the community.
“The people are amazing who sell’ em,”he says. “My son and I were talking about it the other day, how they always have a smile on their face and a good word.”
Without missing a beat, he offers a per-spective that has its dignity in place. “I know homeless people aren’t bums, Holly. They all got screwed out of something, ended up on the streets because of the times we live in – and nobody wants to talk about that part.
“That’s kind of why I wrote ‘Come Back To Us, Barbara Lewis (Hare Krishna Beauregard).’ She probably came from wealth of some kind, ran off to be a hippie, joined a religious cult, got married. She tried so many things, she forgot what she was looking for. It happens... It just does.”
Happy hour is drawing even nearer, and Prine has people to meet and eight ball to shoot. He’s already started writing new songs – “the regular records aren’t nearly as fun,” he concedes– and thinking about what kind of solo project he might make. Through all the tough times, challenges and losses, he’s managed to maintain some grace; it seems in many ways as if he’s never been happier. But that doesn’t mean he’s lost sight of the thread.
By Hannah Herner
Keith D. had saved some bread to give to “the kids.” That’s how he greets the chickens who live in his yard. It’s part of his evening routine after selling The Contributor, along with tending to his garden.
This season Keith gave out between 120-and-140 pints of cherry tomatoes. He gives to customers, Contributor staff and volunteers, and a local low-income retirement home. Overall, he estimates that he gives away 80-to-85 percent of what he’s grown.
“I like to share,” he says. “When I give away the tomatoes, whatever’s runt-y I keep for myself. When I’m giving it to somebody I want to give my best.”
But he’s keeping one of his proudest accomplishments, Zuc-zilla, an overgrown zucchini he harvested. That one will be saved for seeds for next season.
Keith is driven to tend to the garden and chickens to help out his friend and landlord, who tills the land and owns the chickens. He draws from experience helping his grandmother in her garden when he was a child, and loves to watch gardening shows. He also thinks that as long as he’s able to do the work, he should do it in honor of those who can’t.
“That’s my main reason for gardening. I know other people can’t garden,” Keith says. “I’d say most of the stuff I give away goes to older people who used to be able to garden and can’t anymore. Most of the stuff I give away goes to people who really appreciate it. I’m making somebody a little better. That makes sweating and getting bug bit worth it.”
Keith likes to plant his produce closer together than advised. He wants a wall of tomatoes, a lush bed of greens. He said he wants to look out at his yard and feel like Kevin Costner — to see a field of dreams.
Latch hook rugs
Norma B. doesn’t do drugs, she does rugs, she says. Creating latch hook rugs has been a hobby for Norma since she was 11 years old. She only has one to show as an example, because she’s given them all away as gifts — designs with teapots, hearts and flowers have gone to loved ones for various occasions.
Norma remembers a huge rug she gave to somebody that took hours and hours to make. The recipient said, “that’s nice.” And they never displayed it. She’s slowed down on the rug-making since then.
“Somebody said, ‘Why don’t you sell this instead of the paper?’ Each of these rows is 45 minutes to an hour, and there’s hundreds of them. I could never sell it for what I got in it, but this is a great stress reliever,” Norma says.
Norma says the sign of a successful rug is when you flip it over and it looks nice and neat, almost as pretty as the front. The things that stand in the way of her rug-making are having enough money for a kit and finding a design she likes. What Norma likes about making latch hook rugs is anyone can do it. She even taught her granddaughter, now 11 years old.
“She was like, four years old, and I was like ‘All you do is you stick the hook in and you wrap it around and you pull it through,” she says. “I mean, it’s not exactly rocket science.”
David “Clinecasso” Cline
“I named myself Clinecasso after the artist, Picasso. I admire him, his works, and his works are highly similar to mine. At some point I’m going to be doing faces that are my version of a Picasso face. But they’re not going to be called a ‘Picasso face.’ They’re going to be called a ‘Clinecasso face.’”
Around The Contributor office, and most likely the greater Nashville area, David C. is rarely called by his given name. He’s made a new identity with his colorful permanent marker drawings of faces, houses, landscapes and kaleidoscope-esque abstract pieces. Each piece is given a zany name, like “Mr. Squiggly going crazy” or “WHAM!” or “Spooky Skull.”
David and his wife are both involved in Poverty in the Arts, a local nonprofit that gives artists experiencing homelessness and poverty arts supplies and the opportunity to sell their pieces for income.
In his youth, David didn’t gravitate toward art, but gained confidence in his artistic abilities in his 30s.
“I tried art class as a freshman in high school and I didn’t understand it because I really didn’t like the color wheel,” David says.
David deals with ADHD and bipolar symptoms, and says working on his pieces is therapeutic.
“It helps me with my disability, it helps me with my mental condition, it helps me calm down,” he says. “When I do art, it calms down the hyper-activity.”
In his nearly 10 years with The Contributor, Clinecasso has submitted countless pieces of art, sometimes two and three at a time, and readers can find a Clinecasso original in most issues. Fans can buy his original pieces for $5 each.
Playing the spoons
William “Spoon Man” B. started playing the spoons when he was just eight years old. As a child, he was in the hospital for an extended period of time. An older patient showed William how to play spoons, and pulled another set out of his pocket to give to him.
“I was a quick learner. He said ‘You know what? You’ve got beginner's luck. You have got the talent to play spoons,’” William says.
William says the man who taught him to play spoons wasn’t around long, but he holds a special place in his heart for him.
“To this very day I love that man for teaching me what he taught me. He gave me a gift,” William says.
Holding the spoons is kind of like holding chopsticks — you hold one tightly and the other more loosely. William customizes the pairs himself, taping them in a way that makes them easier to play. In the past, he’s taught a spoons class at Room In The Inn, and is always up for an impromptu lesson. He likes that playing spoons brings him people to talk to.
“No matter where I am, if I feel like playing the spoons and singing, I do it.” He recently did a performance at Dollar Tree, and he’s always playing along to rock music when he’s out selling the paper.
Throughout his life, playing the spoons has remained a constant through physical and mental trauma.
“This is my best medicine,” William says.
Cynthia P. is the spirit behind the Kid’s Corner section of The Contributor. Her kid-friendly illustrations of animals and seasonal scenes are left blank for coloring. She got started drawing for her own kids.
“I would draw silly pictures for my kids and print a few copies of them so they had something to color. At the time, we couldn’t afford coloring books,” she says.
From the age of 18, Cynthia traveled nine months out of the year with carnivals. Her boss took notice of her artistic skills, and she began painting the rides. After 30 years of that lifestyle, she had to stop working with the carnival in 2017 due to illness.
Cynthia misses getting to see the excitement on the kids faces at the fairs she worked.
“When I worked with the carnival, I enjoyed doing it because even when you smashed your finger, hit your head, dropped something on your foot — as soon as we opened and the lights were on and the kids were at the gate, they were just so excited to be at the fair,” she says. “I feel like getting to color something in an adult paper gives them that same excitement.”
Cynthia has regular customers who are children. One of them requested the Halloween cat that was in the Oct. 23 issue.
Creating the artwork helps her to keep her stress level down and in turn helps with her hypertension. She hopes coloring her drawings brings that same calmness to children and adults alike.
“Kids, it’s great for them to color because it helps them calm down. But it’s also great for adults that have stressful jobs,” Cynthia says. “Having these pictures in the paper shows kids that there’s people out there that really want them to have a good time and enjoy their day. Because kids go through a lot of stress, too.
By: Nancy Kirkland
I am celebrating one year volunteering at The Contributor vendor office, but my connection to the newspaper actually began years ago through a vendor I befriended named Curtis.
I met him because I would walk my dogs by his spot at 8th and Wedgewood. I developed a real fondness and admiration for Curtis and I would take him to run errands, get groceries and regularly take him his favorite treat — a blueberry muffin. We would ask about each other’s lives. He always said he would pray for me, even though he knew that I was not religious.
By: Jennifer A.
To look at it, some would say the house was haunted. Joan leisurely padded through the complicated labyrinth of hollow rooms deliberately adjusting her step around the larger slabs of crumbling sallow-waxy wall. She diverted her dull sunken eyes from the cells that contained the mummified bodies of her dead sisters as she passed to answer the knock at the front door. There was no girlish flourish to Joan’s course. And while she plotted each step in total silence, the nagging mantra in her mind screamed, “Father, when will you return from the war?”