Shared from the 2017-06-17 Chattanooga eEdition

Church of Urth evicted

Mercy Junction looks to future of center

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STAFF PHOTO BY DOUG STRICKLAND

Tyler Short places a guitar on top of a pile of his belongings outside Mercy Junction Peace and Justice Center in Highland Park after his eviction on Friday.

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STAFF PHOTO BY DOUG STRICKLAND

Mercy Junction Peace and Justice Center volunteer Damien Crisp, right, carries Tyler Short’s belongings out of the building as Short, left, gives an interview to television crews after his eviction Friday.

Tyler Short addressed reporters Friday while volunteers began to haul black bags, old dressers and big, bulky mattresses out of a Highland Park community center he refused to leave for a month.

“I knew (the deputies) were coming,” Short said. “What they have said is because I’m associated with Ryan Holmes they’re going to evict me, and if I don’t like that, I have to go through civil court. So that may be where this ends up.”

Problem is, Short already had his chance in court, and he never showed up. As a result, Mercy Junction Peace and Justice Center was able to resolve a monthlong eviction process Friday afternoon after three Hamilton County deputies escorted Short out of the Union Avenue building.

Short has 48 hours to remove four guitars, several black bags, Spider-Manthemed pillows, a box of ammunition, and other possessions from a back alley outside Mercy Junction. He started packing some items,

including guitars, into a friend’s pickup truck around 3 p.m.

His friend and co-founder of the “Church of Urth,” Ryan Holmes, was nowhere to be found. He was, however, active on social media.

“Cool,” Holmes wrote on an Instagram post, attaching a picture of the court document that ordered him and Short to leave. “They made Beth (Foster, the director) the owner!!! That’s a good thing actually!!! Gives more power to MJ!!! Sweet. OK. We will clear out and let them do their thing as the new owners. They are welcome.”

Holmes and Short co-founded the Church of Urth, a self-described interfaith group, and convinced Mercy Junction to lease them space in December 2016. Known for opening its doors to feed and supply the homeless with toiletries and household goods, Mercy Junction rents about 30 spaces to artists, activists and other interfaith groups committed to social justice.

Shortly after renewing the lease in May, Holmes began writing a stream of Facebook posts claiming he was God, making misogynist comments about women and rape, and representing himself as the face of Mercy Junction, center officials said.

The center’s elders asked the pair to leave, saying Holmes violated the center’s principles, but they refused. Other tenants began avoiding the center, and Foster took the issue to court. Earlier this month, she secured a court order through attorney Robin Flores that gave both men 10 days to leave.

On Friday morning, several center members and friends gathered in the parking lot to greet deputies involved in the eviction process. Only Short answered around 10 a.m. when they knocked on a bedroom door where they knew the men were staying.

“I don’t know why he’s not here,” Short said of Holmes. “He is a grown man.”

Some Mercy Junction members have filed police reports against Holmes for bizarre behavior, including one elder who said Holmes started texting her, claiming he would come to her home or office if she sold the property.

A Times Free Press reporter tried to obtain that report, but the city attorney’s office said Friday those records were exempt from release because they “are involved in an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Foster and other members also said an officer told them he would file a misdemeanor arrest warrant for mail theft after Holmes allegedly posted on Facebook a picture of an opened letter to someone else at Mercy Junction. Foster said an officer knocked on Holmes’ door earlier this week but got no answer. As of Friday, Holmes had not been arrested or charged with anything.

“We’re just relieved this part of this is over,” Foster said Friday, adding Mercy Junction will have hospitality hours again on Monday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. The center had closed its doors most days to people because of the eviction process.

Either way, the road forward will be difficult, Foster said. Tenants whose rents supported Mercy Junction have been leaving because of Holmes and Short.

“From here,” she said, “the council of elders will be taking some time to decide what is possible for Mercy Junction based on our financial situation.”

Contact staff writer

Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow

him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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