Nashville has the resources to relieve the city’s homelessness, the authors of an external report examining the city’s approach to addressing homelessness said Thursday.
“It’s a matter of willpower,” said Andreanecia Morris, one of the authors of the HousingNOLA report.
The Metro-commissioned report recommends creating a stand-alone homeless services office, downsizing the Homeless Planning Council and building more permanent supportive housing. Its authors presented their findings on Thursday, but the report itself has not yet been published.
The authors highlighted the need to streamline communication and coordination among groups working on the homelessness response and how gaps in city data collection prevent Nashville from receiving larger grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and of urban development.
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The whereabouts of more than 15% of people receiving permanent supportive housing assistance over the past five years were either unknown or data lacking in the Homeless Management Information System, the report said.
HUD reviews HMIS data to allocate funds. Currently, Nashville receives approximately $6.4 million annually in HUD scholarship funding. New Orleans, which is about half the size of Nashville, receives nearly $26.3 million a year.
“As a city, you receive significantly less than other comparable cities from HUD because you’re not reporting that you’re housing your chronically homeless people, which is HUD’s priority,” said Sam Tsemberis, one of the authors of the report. This is why it is so important to focus on this group. It could almost double your income.
Stacy Horn Koch, one of the report’s authors, said her research included interviews with more than 40 members of the organizations examined, including those of the Homeless Planning Council.
In recent months, there has been an escalation of conflicts between members of the planning council.
“That was one of the most amazing things I’ve heard, lately at HPC meetings, people and I have heard this from people of color and non-color people, are traumatized by the amount assaults at meetings,” said Horn Koch. .
The report points to the group’s lack of diversity, its culture of distrust and its inability to govern as reasons for its ineffectiveness.
Karri Gornick, vice president of housing and development at youth outreach organization The Oasis Center and a member of the Homeless Planning Council, wasn’t surprised by the external reviewers’ recommendations.
Gornick said the Continuum of Care and the Homeless Planning Council have called for more funding for chronically homeless people and to create more permanent supportive housing.
Without being able to review the report herself, she said she struggled with how the efforts of established providers were portrayed in the presentation.
“My challenge is that it was portrayed as if the community doing the work wasn’t doing enough, wasn’t focusing on the right population,” Gornick said.
Horn Koch pointed to Milwaukee, where people have been striving for years but only really gained traction after the local government took on the responsibility of coordinating resources. Having a strong will was not enough – it took organization.
Council member Freddie O’Connell, a member of the Homelessness Planning Commission and a candidate for the 2023 mayoral election, said he found parts of the presentation validated.
HPC has been pushing for more permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless, HMIS improvements, and a renewed approach to Nashville’s current Coordinated Entry Index, which recent studies show can create discriminatory results, he said.
While some of the report’s criticisms of HPC are valid, O’Connell said the presentation was “a bit less skeptical or critical of some of this administration’s choices” and did not acknowledge a “long-standing gap” in communication between the mayor’s office and the HPC or the resignations of key MHID staff over the past year.
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The mayor’s administration commissioned the study after O’Connell introduced a bill to create a housing and homelessness office separate from the mayor’s control. A revised version of the bill will go to its second of three readings on June 7. O’Connell said he would introduce a “compromise” amendment that would allow the HPC executive committee to recommend finalists for the position of office manager in the mayor’s office, instead of the manager being appointed solely by the mayor as the consultants’ report suggests.
“Based on the slides and the discussion today, I’m not confident that right now an accountability structure coming out of the mayor’s office is going to produce the results they’re hoping for,” O’ said. Connell.
Metro Council members, CHP members, Mayor John Cooper and representatives from Cooper’s office were present for the presentation on Thursday.
“Maybe we can get all of these groups lined up and it will be Nashville’s time, and that would be the best possible outcome,” O’Connell said.
Cassandra Stephenson covers metropolitan government for The Tennessean. Arcelia Martin covers the growth and development of Nashville.