Getting Homeless Poeple Off The Streets Makes For A Better City

The following was written by Will Connelly, Director of The Metro Homelessness Commission in Nashville.  It appeared originally in The Tennessean.

On June 4, our community launched How’s Nashville, a collaborative effort to end chronic homelessness. On day one of this grass-roots housing campaign, two people who had collectively experienced homelessness for more than 38 years finally signed leases, received keys and unlocked doors. These two survivors were the first of dozens to find housing over the past 79 days.

How’s Nashville is keeping track of the days. We set a very specific, time-limited and almost unreachable goal on June 4 to house 200 people in 100 days. Many people, including some very dear friends and colleagues, thought we were crazy and probably would fail. Some drank the Kool-Aid and were sure we would succeed, and would get upset if failure was even mentioned. Others were just happy that someone finally set a clear, measurable goal around homelessness in Nashville.

Today is day 79 of the 100-day campaign, and 120 people who were experiencing chronic homelessness are in permanent housing. September 12 is the final day of the 100-day housing push, which means we have a lot of work to do to meet our housing goal of 200 people. We may need another Music City miracle to get there.

Whether we reach our 100-day goal or not, I find comfort in knowing that more people are in housing because we decided to challenge ourselves and work together toward a common goal and purpose. Before How’s Nashville, an average of 19 people experiencing chronic homelessness were documented leaving the streets for permanent housing each month. In the first 60 days of this housing campaign, that average jumped to 54 people per month.

The “system” that attempts to provide housing and homeless services has improved as well because of the campaign. MDHA decided to prioritize Section 8 vouchers to the most vulnerable people, private landlords are dramatically discounting rents, and more than a dozen agencies and organizations are meeting every week to share strategies, solve problems and celebrate successes. Nashville never has seen this level of collaboration among social service agencies.

The point of the 100-day housing campaign is not the final number of people who find housing. The point is to create a sense of urgency around systems-change in Nashville, and no matter what number we end up reaching, no one can argue that Nashville hasn’t changed for the better.

More than 100 vulnerable people experiencing homelessness are now comfortably in their own homes. We have built an engine to sustain the improvements after day 100. But, the 100th day hasn’t come and gone just yet. Seventy more people need to find housing by Sept. 12. With a little additional help, we still can meet our goal.

We need more landlords, especially those accepting Section 8 housing vouchers. We provide intensive support to the new tenants to help make their new housing a home and to increase the chances that housing stability is achieved. But we need more landlords to give people who have been struggling on the streets a second chance. How’s Nashville partners know that housing is a precious resource. If you set aside an apartment for our campaign, we will make it worth your time, and Nashville as a whole will benefit from your willingness to join a communitywide collaboration that will change our city for the better of all its residents.

Will Connelly is the director of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission and leads the How’s Nashville effort. To reach him, please call his office at 615-880-2360.

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About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless
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