In 2005 Nashville joined many other cities in the development and implementation of a 10-year plan to end homelessness. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, Nashville has, like many American cities, struggled to accomplish the goal. A cadre of obstacles and barriers, including, but certainly not limited to scarce resources, reliance on “readiness” as a precursor to obtaining housing, a closed Homeless Management Information System, lack of affordable units and housing vouchers, all contributed to the challenge of procuring housing. A lack of coordination among area behavioral health providers exacerbated these challenges, and frustration and hopelessness were increasing within the homeless community with each passing year.
Thanks to the efforts of a new Executive Director at the Nashville Metropolitan Homelessness Commission and a committed team of Commissioners, partners, and volunteers, a partnership with the 100,000 Homes Campaign, and a collaboration of several local providers and faith-based organizations, the situation appears to be changing for the better.
On May 29-31, 2013, twenty teams comprised of over 100 community volunteers canvassed the streets and campsites of Nashville, Tennessee, using the Vulnerability Index to survey and create a priority list of individuals experiencing street homelessness who are most at risk of premature death if they remain homeless. The Vulnerability Index, created by Dr. Jim O’Connell, President of the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless program, identifies those who have been homeless the longest and are the most vulnerable. In addition to gathering the names, pictures, and dates of birth of individuals sleeping on the streets, the teams also captured data on their health status, institutional history (jail, prison, hospital, and military), length of homelessness, patterns of shelter use, and their previous housing histories.
A heavily attended community meeting was held on June 4, 2013, to discuss the results of the survey and kick off the start of a new campaign, “How’s Nashville”. The immediate goal of the campaign is to house 200 of the most vulnerable and chronically homeless into housing within 100 days. Once this is completed, How’s Nashville will continue the effort to house the city’s most vulnerable members with the ultimate goal of ending homelessness within the city by 2015. Although using a Housing First approach is often more cost effective than alternate methods, and certainly more so than managing homelessness on the street, there are still costs associated with providing housing to those experiencing homelessness.
Community members rose to the financial challenge associated with the campaign, donating $36,000 during the June meeting to help defray move-in costs associated with the transition from street to home. Outreach workers began immediately moving individuals identified as high priority into housing at the end of the meeting, and invited attendees to walk with them to a welcome home celebration. Through the city’s efforts, one individual was identified as “most vulnerable” and was moved into housing after more than 7 years of life on the street.
The campaign is off to a strong start with 43 people successfully housed and supported during the month of June. Conversely, from January to May 2013, just 19 people experiencing homelessness were placed into housing. uly is also off to a solid start and should meet or exceed the minimum number of placements needed to meet the final housing goal of 200 people housed within 100 days.
Nashville’s homeless population may finally have reason for optimism instead of pessimism. There will continue to be challenges associated with scarce resources and the city’s approach is far from perfect. Clearly however, Nashville has turned a corner and embraced a new approach that is proven to dramatically reduce homelessness. With the momentum of the How’s Nashville campaign firmly pushing the effort forward, for the first time in many years, Nashville is housing those experiencing homelessness in a systematic, logical, and coordinated manner. The future appears brighter for the city’s most vulnerable residents than it has been for a very long time.
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