MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There’s now a push to clear out a homeless encampment under the I-240 flyover near Summer Avenue in East Memphis.
Tennessee State Senator Brent Taylor says he has been getting phone calls and complaints from drivers that pass through the area who would like to see the camp cleared out.
He says state law prohibits any campsite like this on public property. He’s now calling on the city to enforce the law and find shelter for those living here so that TDOT can come clean up the site.
But the people living there say it has been their home for at least four months, and they feel they have nowhere to go. They say at least four adults live there along with their pets.
“I got me a tent and I live out here and try to do the best that I can,” said one man, who found community with his wife in the grassy space nestled between the interstate flyover and Summer Avenue.
He said this spot is all he has after being released from prison.
“I got out of Mississippi prison with no ID, no Social Security card, no birth certificate, nowhere,” said the man, who goes by Bubba. “My family, my mother, my grandmother, granddad, everybody is dead. Everybody is dead. I have no friends and no family after sixteen-and-a-half years.”
Bubba says he flies a sign and cleans up the nearby Exxon parking lot to support his wife. It’s his way of surviving after serving 16 years in prison.
It’s not the only homeless camp near an interstate in Memphis. A mattress, cooler and other boxes hang along the South Perkins underpass on I-240.
“It’s unsafe,” said Karen Nolen, who passes the Perkins homeless camp daily. “It’s unhealthy. They could be killed or injured. And also it’s a bad representation of our city not addressing it.”
Taylor (R-Memphis) has been working on the issue for months. He says state law prohibits camp sites like this on public property, which is a felony offense.
“TDOT was very happy to come and do the cleanup, but they said we need to make sure the folks are removed, because our people aren’t equipped to be able to handle people who become upset when you start gathering up their belongings,” Taylor said. “So then it became this jurisdictional finger pointing about the city of Memphis saying THP needed to do it, and THP saying MPD needed to do it.”
Ultimately, Taylor says it was determined the city should enforce the law.
“Now they are working in concert with TDOT and the Hospitality Hub to coordinate the best way to get that area cleaned up and help find the folks living there more permanent shelter,” Taylor said.
The city sent us a response that says the state is responsible for maintaining the interstate. It reads in part: “We are discussing with MPD how we can assist the State to clear these homeless camps from its property.”
They also say that, to stop this from being a re-occurring problem, the Hospitality Hub has offered to be a vendor to remove the homeless and trash on an ongoing basis.
“We’ve already been kicked down,” Bubba said. “We just need a little help, you know what I’m saying. We’re not bad people out here.”