It was around April of this year that I was visiting a boarded up hotel in Nashville that was shut down in 2012 by order of the city due to it being a public nuisance. Prostitution, drug sales and out of hand parties were just a few of the problems that had occurred in the past at the Harding Road Inn. After it was shut down, about 30 homeless in the area took advantage of the shelter and made it their home.
While at the hotel in April, my friend Jason Bennett said to me that we needed to call his friend Ingrid McIntyre to see if we can get some of these folks off the street and into a real apartment of their own. Knowing that we were battling addiction and mental illness in the hotel, I knew it was a tall order to get all of them off the street. However, Jason was not going to let the idea of only some wanting their own place stop him from at least trying.
One of the many folks living in the hotel was a man named Tony whom I first met in 2013. I knew that he had multiple health problems, so I concentrated on simply walking with him on his journey to a better life. His story started many years ago as a child when his father took him out of school so that he could help with the home business in the hills of East Tennessee. That family business… moonshine.
Tony, who cannot read or write, told me that he remembers his childhood a little differently than most of us. As a 10-year old he would carry bags of sugar across rivers that were waist high and then up the side of what looked to be a mountain at his age. That sugar was being delivered to his father who was hidden deep in the woods making his homemade moonshine that would later be sold to folks in nearby cities.
Later in life Tony’s father passed away and he found himself in the construction trade. He got married to the love of his life and he lived a normal life, despite his childhood being out of the norm. His wife was later diagnosed with cancer after about ten or so years of marriage. She eventually died and Tony emotionally fell apart. His drinking went from weekly to daily and eventually hourly. He told me how much he loved her and how empty he felt without her. Years passed by and Tony found himself on the streets of Nashville living in a wooded area, then a boarded up hotel and eventually behind a gas station after the hotel caught fire. No tent, no change of clothing and no money. His only valuable possession was a food stamp card and the owner of the Shell Gas Station on Harding Road whom helped him stay afloat. The owners of the gas station allowed him to sleep on a concrete pad behind the store and always checked on him or called for help if he needed to be hospitalized due to his ongoing health issues.
His story is not over yet as he just got into his brand new apartment thanks to the help of Ingrid McIntyre, Lauren Plummer and Open Table Nashville. While he only has a bed and a chair, he told me that when he looked out HIS window and saw the rain the other day, he thanked God that he was not in it. Tony, who is 58, is taking life day by day as he ends his drinking and aims to become healthier.
Going back to the Harding Inn, it is now empty. An arsonist with a grudge against some of the residents burned those who were left out. Only a portion of the hotel stands today. By the way that arsonist, also a resident in the hotel, was tracked down within minutes of police arrival the day the fire broke out. It did not take officers long to locate the man because he had monitoring device strapped to his ankle as he was a convicted sex offender.