Opinion: Lebron's Look: Low-barrier shelter not a high risk for Chattanooga

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Jermaine Freeman, chief of staff for Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, speaks during a meeting at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center on Wednesday, November 1, 2023. The community meeting was held to give residents a chance to ask questions about a new low-barrier shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

Low-barrier a good option

Chattanooga police Capt. Zachary McCullough said in a Wednesday community meeting that he's open to the idea of the low-barrier shelter being built on East 12th Street.

"The very first question they [the homeless] ask the officers is, 'Where can I go?' and we don't have an answer," McCullough, who oversees the sector that includes East 11th and 12th streets, told property owners who live in the Martin Luther King Jr. neighborhood area. "While we don't know what the ultimate result is, we have to try something, and I'm willing to give it a shot."

We should of course be mindful of the impact that the shelter will have on residential communities in that area. But as the weather becomes colder, it's extremely important that people experiencing homelessness have a warm place to stay.

We need to give people experiencing homelessness a better option than being removed from a space they're comfortable in or being taken to jail.

Let's also ensure Chattanooga Police officers and Sheriff's Office deputies have adequate training on how to deal with people who do not have permanent housing.

It was only a year ago that the state passed a bill criminalizing sleeping in public spaces, making camping on public property, including parks, a Class E felony and camping along a highway or under a bridge a Class C misdemeanor. A law this drastic, combined with law enforcement officers who may not be well prepared to enforce it, only hurts the vulnerable homeless population.

Adding a low-barrier shelter is a great start, but it's not the complete fix to our challenges with the chronic issue of homelessness.

A single low-barrier shelter likely won't be enough. We should support the build-out of more infrastructure — facilities and services — for the homeless. Our community can support a strong safety net for when life hits our neighbors hard.

New school grading change

On Thursday, the Tennessee Department of Education outlined how the state will grade schools on an A to F scale.

According to a Thursday Times Free Press report, the new letter grade model considers academic proficiency and student growth. It also weighs the growth of the lowest-performing quartile of students. Student achievement is measured through the annual Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) testing while growth is measured through the Tennessee Value Added Assessment.

The new model for elementary, middle and high schools weighs achievement the highest among all of the grading criteria.

It's a good sign that student growth is the second highest indicator. Using it in the scale brings balance to the grading scale and levels the playing field for all schools regardless of the socioeconomic status of their students.

"It's always been a very important story for us to tell both achievement and growth. We believe, and we hold true to this belief, that student performance is both," Shannon Moody, chief strategy officer at Hamilton County Schools, said in a phone interview, adding that residents "always hear us talking about the balance between achievement and growth, and that's going to be reflected in the scores of what they see for their schools."

School grades will be released in mid-December.

Equity and affordable housing

In a Q&A published in the Times Free Press on Thursday, Chicago urban planner Chandra Christmas-Rouse spoke about creating equity in housing.

Christmas-Rouse gave her thoughts about gentrification.

"I would offer that we look at it as a set of intentional decisions being made to attract higher income residents to neighborhoods, which we've seen tend to be young, white professionals.

"To counter what we see as very racial explicit outcomes from these policies that maybe just say income or class but have racial implications, we need to counter that with racially explicit policies to respond. Cities can start to work with legacy residents and think about what are the different tools we could use to keep these communities affordable, to create development patterns that are being directly co-created with residents."

Christmas-Rouse's beliefs about housing and gentrification might be hard for some to swallow, and even harder to accommodate. But the reality is more and more people are coming around to acknowledging and understanding the very real implications of gentrification. Chattanooga has seen plenty of neighborhoods change over the years: the North Shore, Southside, Highland Park, St. Elmo, to name a few.

As developers and investors eye the next "it' neighborhood, Christmas-Rouse's words should remain top of mind — as uncomfortable as that may be. Gentrification isn't going to stop, but we can create new communities that are open and accessible to more than just the well-to-do few.