Nashville’s homeless express their experiences living without a "…sanctuary called housing" George Walker IV / The Tennessean
Nashville has more money to address homelessness and is working to more accurately measure the problem.
Every spring, the Nashville homeless community releases its Point in Time count data. Then a big tug-of-war starts over the true state of homelessness in Nashville.
The truth is, we do not have an accurate way of producing unduplicated annualized data that provides a full picture of what homelessness in Nashville looks like. But we are working on it.
The Point in Time count, which provides a one-time snapshot, decreased from 2,298 people in 2018 to 1,986 in 2019. That is a 14% reduction in people who sleep in shelters, on the streets or in encampments and who were counted on one night in late January. This is a success we should not overlook.
Yet, we have more work to do because the Point in Time count provides a very limited picture. A comprehensive picture of homelessness should account for annual data of all people experiencing homelessness in Nashville including families with children, individuals and unaccompanied youth who live in crowded, unsafe situations, who stay in motels, or who couch surf. It also should include housing placement and housing retention data, and we ought to be able to measure the average length of time it takes for low-income households to find housing in Nashville.
There are still notable achievements
Volunteers hand out food to the homeless under the Jefferson Street bridge on Tuesday, April 23, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. The Titans joined with Bridge Ministry and other volunteers to help the homeless in Nashville.
Regardless of our lack of data, our community has made some significant changes in the past year that have already resulted in quantifiable outcomes.
Over the last year our community has achieved the following:
We unified our homelessness governance structure from two separate boards to one and now have solid leadership in place that is positioned to create the political will that we need to utilize existing resources more effectively and develop new resources;We are working on a three-year communitywide strategic plan to prioritize our next steps, expand our collaboration across different community sectors, and measure outcomes; andWe have garnered a lot of attention to increase the functionality of our Homeless Management Information System, which is a database that is critical in providing us the needed information to reduce overall homelessness in a sustainable manner.
While these three accomplishments may not mean much to the average Nashvillian, they have already resulted in additional federal dollars for our community:
A $3.5-million, two-year grant to address youth and young adult homelessness;A 10% increase in federal funding dollars specifically for homelessness (from $3.2 million to $3.5 million per year); andAn enhancement grant to improve the functionality of our Homeless Management Information System.
What is next?
I believe data truly matters in order to build a comprehensive approach and measure effectively in how we, as a community, assist people experiencing homelessness.
Addressing homelessness is complex, and thoughtful long-term investments are needed if we want to truly make a difference. To readers who doubt that homelessness can be solved, let me contradict you.
Judith Tackett (Photo: handout)
I believe if we keep focusing on building a coordinated system, we will continue to be more efficient in helping people access housing with the right level of supports. We can start within our Nashville neighborhoods and rather than pushing people out, let’s focus on the strength within each neighborhood to help all of our community members. After all, equity is about building communities where there is a safe place called home for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about Nashville’s community efforts, please join us for the inaugural Pathways to Housing Nashville Symposium on June 20, from 8-noon at the Avon Williams Campus of Tennessee State University. For more information visit www.nashville.gov/Social-Services/Homeless-Impact-Division.
Judith Tackett has been serving as the director of the Homeless Impact Division of Metro Social Services since July 1, 2017.