Nashville’s homeless express their experiences living without a “…sanctuary called housing”
George Walker IV / The Tennessean
Although Nov. 11-19 is National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week, the Nashville community needs to determine ways we can address this serious social issue throughout the year.
When the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency released its annual Point-in-Time count of the metro area’s homeless population earlier this year, the results may have produced a flash of optimism.
The number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless counted during one night in late January was 2,337. The figure represented a slight decrease from one year earlier, but, as Mayor Megan Barry quickly cautioned, much work remains to be done.
In her statement, Barry challenged: “This year, we need to align every resource to allow the unhoused to find a place to call home. We are increasing funding for homelessness services and outreach, while also investing more money in affordable housing initiatives.”
Situationally homeless in despair
The efforts of federal, state and local governments tend to target the chronically homeless, i.e., those who are experiencing extended, repeated episodes of homelessness because of severe mental illness or substance abuse, and are therefore at a high risk of mortality.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Report on Hunger and Homelessness in December 2016 indicated 40 percent of Nashville’s homeless fall into this chronic category.
While the figure seems large, in reality, it also indicates that the majority of Nashville’s homeless are situationally homeless. They are experiencing homelessness due to a life-altering event, such as job loss, medical or health emergency, divorce, domestic abuse or the loss of a primary income earner. Typically, these are people who are able-bodied and ready to work. They just need a hand up.
The guiding governmental philosophy has been that once the chronically homeless have been addressed, then attention can be turned to the situationally homeless.
Unfortunately, this paves the way for more situationally homeless to become chronically homeless. It’s a vicious cycle.
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Private partnerships can help solve social issues
With housing affordability issues engulfing Nashville, the issue of homelessness is threatening to get worse. Mayor Barry’s commitment to increased local resources to fight homelessness is certainly laudable, but the reality is that serious progress on this problem depends in large part on the private sector.
To bridge this gap in services and extend that helping hand to the situationally homelessness, robust partnerships between private businesses and non-profits are needed. These partnerships also need to be about more than just housing or just job placement. The solution truly needs to be about both.
Such partnerships already have been formed in the apartment industry. The nonprofit Shelters to Shutters (S2S) is currently working with five apartment management companies in Nashville (Middleburg, Elmington, Crescent, Freeman Webb, and Lennox) to place people experiencing situational homelessness in onsite, entry-level jobs and provide them with housing at the same communities at which they work.
S2S, which partners with a variety of homeless-focused nonprofits to identify suitable job applicants, has already placed a number of its program participants at metro Nashville apartment communities.
A hand up
Private businesses may be hesitant to make a concerted effort to hire the homeless because of the negative stereotypes they have of them.
But it’s time to realize that the homeless population is full of responsible people with strong work ethics and a burning desire to gain meaningful employment and provide for themselves and their families.
They just need a hand up, and the private sector and nonprofits are perfectly positioned to do just that.
Andy Helmer is the CEO of Vienna, Va.-based Shelters to Shutters.
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