Tensions Flare As Metro Clears Woods Near Homeless Campers | Nashville Public Radio

Tensions Flare As Metro Clears Woods Near Homeless Campers

Apr 21, 2016

Emotions ran high Wednesday morning as Metro continued to clear out a homeless camp between Fort Negley and the Adventure Science Center. A tractor tore out trees and bushes.

Camper Denise Gagnon, who has squatted on the hillside for about six months, said she heard a Metro Parks tractor on Tuesday and tried to stop it by waving off the driver.

She said she’s feeling increasingly threatened since the city began eviction proceedings on Friday night — first by handing out trespass citations, and now, by sending a tractor to cut paths for future walking trails.

“They’re coming way down close to the camps and everything, and it’s really got everybody scared half to death,” Gagnon said.

She says she’s not packed yet and doesn’t have another place she wants to go.

She relayed her story to Operation Stand Down homeless outreach worker Denis Huey, who rushed to the campsite Wednesday around 9:30 a.m. after hearing that more trees were being cleared — closer to tents this time.

“It looks like Metro Parks is in here now, slowly but surely trying to squeeze the people out of here by knocking down the forest,” he said.

A Metro Parks tractor cleared trees and brush from the hillside beneath Fort Negley.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

Huey followed the path of stumps and tire tracks up the hill to the stone wall and walking path of historic Fort Negley. That’s where the tractor had parked.

With Metro police observing, he challenged a Metro Parks supervisor about the clearing process — and he got some pushback.

“You don’t need to be jumping on our guys about it,” the employee told him.

“I’m not jumping on 'em … I just, you know, he came within 5 feet of a tent,” Huey said.

The officers asked them to cut off the arguments. The employees wouldn’t answer questions and Metro Parks leadership did not return calls to WPLN.

Later in the day, Mayor Megan Barry reiterated her stance: that city land isn’t suitable for camping and that it must be reclaimed for public use and new trails.

She said the offer to store the belongings of campers still stands. But she wouldn’t say how physical the eviction could become.

“The next step is that people need to vacate the property,” Barry said. “And I think that what we’ve said is [that] we’re working very hard to find a place for folks to go. We have identified a place for everybody to go.”

So far, six campers have been cited. They remain with tents and the wooden decks they’ve erected over several years.

Dozens from the village have relocated, including to other impromptu campsites — some that now include similar wooden structures that were common at so-called "Camp Negley."

This small camp along the Cumberland River now includes a wooden deck.
Credit Nina Cardona / WPLN