Homeless camp demolition mystery solved; city admits mistake

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee(WDEF) – Just two days after telling News 12 there was no knowledge of a well established homeless camp being demolished last Friday,
Chattanooga city administrators now say it was the public works department that wiped out the camp.

According to Chattanooga Chief Operating Officer Maura Sullivan, a phone call to city hall is what lead to the demolition.

"We did receive a phone call from a resident; not to our 311 office but directly to the mayor’s office saying there were tires that need to be cleaned up under an underpass," Sullivan said.

According to city administrators, the caller specified tires in a creek that runs near what use be a homeless creek under the Broad Street overpass.

Henry Knotts built the camp more than a decade ago. He told News 12 that tires were never thrown into the creek from his camp. Instead, he said tires were often used to create a wall.

"I’ve got more use for those tires than the creek does. I could build me a wall to block the wind. That’s what I used them for," Knotts said.

Instead of just pulling tires out of the creek, the Chattanooga city crew reportedly took it a step further by demolishing the camp with bulldozers. Prior to the demolition, a police officer was reportedly called to the scene.

"He said get your stuff and get out of here now. I said, excuse me. You have to leave now. We’re getting ready to bulldoze everything down right now," Knotts said.

"The police officer told us the millionaire people over there are buying this property," said camp occupant Danny Stephens.

Stephens was referring to a developer who is currently in the process of building new homes several hundred feet from the overpass. The owner of Collier Construction told News 12 they took no part in having the camp demolished.

By the time homeless advocate, Alyssa Leonard arrived on scene to check on the welfare of the occupants, it was too late.

"I came around the corner and saw a public works bulldozer right in the center of where his living room would be. There were tons of other public works trucks sitting out here," she said.

Homeless advocates from Relevant Hope were upset because they never had a chance to warn camp occupants that the camp was going to be demolished.

"From our understanding, no one has had any kind of contact or anything about this," said Homeless Advocate Joy Leonard.

City administrators admitted to News 12 that a mistake had been made.

"We had a hole that we found and identified and we will plug that hole so that this won’t happen again," Sullivan said.

The city is now in the process of creating a standard operating procedure that would not only require advocates to be notified about issues involving homeless camps, but also allow advocates ample time to help the homeless relocate should a camp need to be demolished.

A city spokesperson told news 12 that city officials are currently trying to find out the identity of the officer who forced the camp occupants to vacate the camp.

The land on which the camp was demolished is actually owned by TDOT.
TDOT officials told News 12 they were fully aware that a homeless camp was on their property. They also said they had no history of problems with the camp or the homeless people who resided there.

Categories: Local News

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