Our Education Task Force has created a series of videos and outreach materials around the upcoming School Board elections, based on three questions:
Since the beginning of the shutdown and pandemic response, and throughout the rebuilding after the Easter tornado, Tennessee United has been coordinating dozens of volunteers and public financial support for home repair, rental assistance and essential supplies. Yet in spite of good work being done, the Latinx community remains the hardest hit population for COVID-19. With an extreme rise in confirmed cases we are seeing a corresponding rise in death rates.
The El Pueblo Fund looks to provide a moderate level of direct support to COVID-affected families so they can have the freedom and security to shelter-in-place without fear of economic devastation. Fund donations may also be used to aid families burdened by unexpected funeral expenses.
Disbursement of funds is happening immediately. The fund will allow families to shelter in place at home or a hotel (depending how many people are covid19 positive per household). Knowing their bills and basic needs will be covered, will allow them to quarantine safely. The fund will allow TNU to cover, in addition to rent and bills, basic needs such as diapers, formula, medicine and personal hygiene products. Having that peace of mind during quarantine is also needed for their mental health.
While providing these needs TNU also hopes to provide accurate written information in their language, to erase myths that are spreading about covid19, and to eliminate the fear in our community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already caused massive disruption to our local economy and social systems, but many of the effects are only beginning to be seen. Historic levels of unemployment, business closures, and reduced work hours have left many working families without the resources to pay bills. Many of the hardest hit sectors (hospitality, leisure, retail) already relied heavily on low-wage work, and the coronavirus has only added to financial insecurity. Next week we'll begin to see how this is translating to housing instability.
The Hamilton County Courts suspended hearings for eviction cases (legally termed "detainer actions") in mid-March, but on June 16th those cases will begin to be heard. The massive backlog of cases means that multiple courtrooms will be handling these cases, and other types of civil cases are still suspended until the court catches up. To limit exposure, the courtrooms will hear one docket per hour, with ten cases for each docket.
It is important that the community is aware of the scope and outcome of what could become an evictions crisis that threatens community stability. Yet because General Sessions Civil Court isn't a court of record, the outcomes of these cases aren't publicly catalogued. More than ever, we need to make sure that tenant protections and support are open and available.
Next week, CALEB launches Eviction Court Watch, a volunteer program to monitor hearings and record details that can offer insights into housing instability and the court process. We're looking for community members willing to attend the dockets and record information based on a simple template form. This information can then be compiled together to give us a better understanding housing security, and possible steps to improve it.
This program will run for at least one month, and we will reassess after that.
If you would like to be a court watcher, click the link below:
The coronavirus has reportedly left 1 in 10 people in the greater Chattanooga area unemployed, with other industries at risk. Courts have postponed eviction proceedings, but they are set to open up next month under a massive backlog of cases. Our city needs to be aware of the potential scale and danger to community stability that an eviction crisis could have.
This training is meant to provide a starting point to understand how eviction cases work in Hamilton County, and what we should look out for. You can register with the information below:
When: May 27, 2020 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM Eastern Time
Register in advance for this meeting:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Listen as CALEB's Economic Mobility Co-chair, Austin Sauerbrei of the Chattanooga Area Labor Council, discusses the looming threat of a housing and eviction crisis from COVID-19 and the need for public rent support with Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise CEO, Martina Guilfoil. Scenic Roots is a radio program produced by WUTC.
Clergy across Tennessee, representing more than 140 congregations and civic organizations, are calling on Gov. Bill Lee to give local governments more freedom to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Tennessee United is a grassroots, immigrant-led community organization that has been doing an incredible job responding to the need of residents in Ooltewah whose homes have been devastated by the recent tornado. They've coordinated volunteers and supplies, organized restaurants to donate meals to residents, and connected people to essential services like Red Cross emergency housing. They're on the front lines of response, but they need more resources. CALEB is fundraising to reach $3,000 by this Thursday, April 23rd.
Please donate today with the button below to show your support for their efforts, and follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TennesseeUnited
Note (4/24/20): Our community really came through! We successfully raised nearly $6,800 for Tennessee United in less than a week. Thank you immensely to all who volunteered, called and donated.
We're pausing our scheduled timeline to check in with our members in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. How are our organizations and individuals being affected by these events? What actions are happening around the city and state to address the crisis? What does this mean for our collective work?
Topic: CALEB Virtual Meeting
Time: Apr 9, 2020 06:30 PM Eastern Time to 08:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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Meeting ID: 946 983 700
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People across the state have worked tirelessly to help those in need, to give comfort where needed, and to ensure that all of our communities have everything needed to keep their homes, their families safe, and not worry about money during these unprecedented times. Now it’s time for Gov. Lee and the State Legislature to do the same. We're joining with groups across the state to call on the governor to relax overly restrictive state laws and give local governments the freedom to best address the Covid19 crisis.
Well before the pandemic, jailing was failing in Tennessee. Last year, 57% of people incarcerated locally in Hamilton County were held pretrial, meaning they hadn’t been convicted of their crime and were presumed innocent. Although eligible for release, many of those defendants couldn’t afford their bonds; often negligible amounts. The overcrowding of local jails has resulted in enormous expenses, with our two facilities costing the county over $100,000 per day. Similar stories multiply across the state. In rural Hamblen County, TN, a lawsuit was recently filed over excessive bond amounts and resulting overcrowding, with the jail operating at 170% over capacity. In the state prison system, 39% of people sentenced to state facilities are there for “technical violations;” non-criminal violations of probation or parole restrictions.
COVID-19 now threatens these overcrowded facilities like fire near an oil tanker, and the alarms are sounding. Because incarcerated people are unable to follow recommended restrictions on separation and social distancing, transmission is an extreme risk. Correctional officers in Memphis have already tested positive for the virus. On March 24th, 40 organizations filed a petition to the Tennessee Supreme Court seeking immediate steps to decarcerate; their recommendations follow many clear and longstanding calls for reform. The following day, the Supreme Court extended their Order prohibiting in-person proceedings while requiring local judges to submit a plan for decarceration. According to Chief Justice Bivens, “There are low-risk, non-violent offenders who can safely be released and supervised by other means to reduce local jail populations. Judges, law enforcement, and attorneys must work together to identify and create an action plan to address this issue.”
On Friday, March 27th, the Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judges filed their plan. It lists the past month’s reductions in the jail populations for the Hamilton County Jail (-5.6%), as well as Silverdale (-21.7%). For the duration of the Tennessee court response to COVID-19, magistrates can change warrants for nonviolent offenses and technical violations to court summons. The court also encourages law enforcement to use criminal summons in lieu of arrest at their discretion. Officers look to be taking the recommendation seriously; weekly jail bookings have dropped by 65% from the first week of March. Clearly when there is the will to act, substantial changes can be made.
This same commitment to reduction hasn’t affected the state facilities, and the Tennessee Dept of Corrections states that "there are no plans for early release because of the coronavirus." Yet there is plenty of room to act. Tennessee should stop locking people up for behaviors that, for people not on parole or probation, would not warrant incarceration. If parole officers initiate the revocation process, schedule revocation hearings after the public health concerns have subsided. There are also opportunities for “compassionate release” for elderly offenders whose incarceration poses an extreme risk during the pandemic. Individuals eligible for parole or probation over the next six months should be released.
In our work maintaining the Hamilton County Community Bail Fund, CALEB continues to help individuals and families whose only barrier to freedom is wealth. We too share the goal of community safety, but we recognize that the incarceration system that we’ve inherited also produces community harm. Criminal sentencing shouldn’t come with the threat of deadly illness. Governor Lee can make decisions that support more proactive local efforts.
That's why CALEB has joined with Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) and Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and HOPE (MICAH), sending a letter to Gov. Lee to add our voices to the call for more effective decarceration measures within the Department of Correction. Our letter can be seen below.
CALEB is an institutional coalition of faith-based, labor, and community groups working to build power to affect change in Chattanooga, TN.