Hope on the Row
"Homeless people are scary," "they don’t want to work" and "they like being homeless" are common phrases Ava Suppelsa fights against in her non-profit Hope on the Row.
“I never intended for it to be a nonprofit, it just happened organically,” Suppelsa said.
Suppelsa began Hope on the Row June 2020 with a few friends, a couple bags of food and a goal to help when she felt helpless.
Through this, Suppelsa learned some reasons behind homelessness and it's complexity.
“I even used to think as a kid in Chicago people on the street were scary. But, I now work with this community of people every week, and I have never felt scared,” Suppelsa said.
The government has pushed to remove those experiencing homelessness from public view, but that means moving away from their community and their jobs.
“There’s been a program that’s put in place that’s basically to end homelessness. . .it’s not ending homelessness,” Suppelsa said. “What that really means is to end visible homelessness for people coming into Nashville.”
Police forces are coming into encampments and forcing people outside of Nashville.
“Our city has decided it’s an eyesore to have people living on the street, and has moved the encampments into one encampment,” Suppelsa said. “But there’s communities in these encampments.”
Tennessee recently made it a felony to sleep on the streets except in very specific zones. This leads to arrests and felony charges for not having a home, continuing the cycle of homelessness.
“A felony keeps you from having a job, which keeps you from getting affordable housing,” Suppelsa said. “It is truly a vicious cycle and keeps people out of homes.”
Homelessness is not as simple as removing encampments and people without homes from sight, Supplesa said.
“The first step is advocating for more affordable housing programs or programs that lead into housing,” Suppelsa said. “It’s really just a band-aid approach at the moment rather than any type of solution.”
Hope on the Row helps people who cannot afford food or clothing stay warm and fed. Last year, it helped 7,500 people and gave out 3,264 pounds of clothes with help from their volunteer staff.
They are always looking for more volunteers who want to help serve their community.
“Here, the only training is you have to be a nice person who wants to help,” Suppelsa said.
Homeless people are still people who deserve their basic needs met. People think they cannot help homeless people, yet caring can, and does, help, Suppelsa said.
“It’s an innate human thing to not look at the pain,” Suppelsa said. “The more we talk about it, we start to 'un-other’ people.”
That is what Hope on the Row does, talk about all the hardships that come with homelessness.
This is anything from joining sit-ins so enforcement cannot move the encampments to continuing to serve even when asked not to by the police.
"They sent an email to all the groups that serve and basically told us, 'this is the date that everyone has to be out. We ask that you stop serving now up until that time." Suppelsa said. "Basically cut these people off from resources so that no one goes there."
Hope on the Row and others like Open Table did not listen, finding this request "disturbing," said Suppelsa.
This activism is what made Belmont's public relations campaign class want to partner with Hope on the Row.
They hosted events and grew their social media presence by spreading information about the issue.
“We decided Hope on the Row because it’s a great organization that is helping people in town,” Belmont junior Andrew Sypert said.
Hope on the Row will keep fighting stereotypes and ensuring people get the help they need, Suppelsa said.
“This is where things change,” Suppelsa said. “With us.”
This article was written by Maya Burney