KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Controversy is stirring in Kingsport after new additions were added to park benches that keep homeless people from sleeping on them.
For the past two months, the city of Kingsport says they have been trying to crack down on the issue of homelessness.
Wooden blocks can be found in Glen Bruce Park, the Greenbelt in Kingsport and other public spaces on wooden benches. City leaders say they are trying to help curb crime.
“This is an issue that cannot be solved by waving a wand,” Kingsport city manager Chris McCartt said.
That decision was made through the office of city manager Chris McCartt, and was not taken to a vote by the Board of Mayor and Alderman.
“This single action does not define the city’s stance on homelessness, it is addressing other issues that are unfortunately being tied back into homelessness,” McCartt said.
McCartt says the city noticed trends in crime near the Kingsport Public Library. He says drug paraphernalia found in Glen Bruce Park sparked their decision to install the blocks in that location.
“Primarily, what I’m referring to there is hypodermic needles. We found them in trees, bushes. We have kids playing in there. We have to recognize the fact that that is not acceptable,” McCart said.
The city has received backlash from people in the community who are saying this is a harsh move.
“This is kind of nonsense, I would rather them be sleeping on the benches versus on the ground or in the alleyways where the drugs are actually there,” Kingsport resident Malcolm Stallard said.
But McCartt says this is something the city must enforce.
“By city ordinance, our parks are closed at night,” McCartt said. “And we have to go in and enforce that. We want individuals to be in a shelter, we do not want them to be in our parks.”
But for Pastor Will Shewey, who interacts with the homeless daily at Shades of Grace church in Kingsport, he knows the need is there, but says shelters in the city are lacking.
“There are no shelters. Until a shelter is provided for the city, Salvation Army is the shelter for men and women. You have Hope Haven for men which has certain limitations and you have Hope Place for women, but there are no shelters. Our city does not have a shelter,” said Shewey.
Shewey believes the blocks speak volumes.
“It’s a very clear message to the homeless, ‘You are not wanted here.’ There is really no where for them to go. They are being pushed out of sight, out of mind,” Shewey said.
McCartt stands by the decision and says it is not a heartless move, he says it is step one in an effort to finding solutions.
“I realize that when someone sees it they think it is not an act of compassion, but simply it is based on something not necessarily dealing with homelessness but dealing more with crime,” McCartt said.
McCartt says Kingsport leaders are also working to provide other solutions to homelessness in the community.
They want to add a social worker to the Kingsport Police Department that will help work with the homeless.
They also say they are working to bring multiple resources and organizations together to see how they can collaborate to help the homeless.
A change.org petition has more than 2,500 signatures asking for the blocks to be removed.