The number of people experiencing homelessness in Nashville jumped 10 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to a new report. Homelessness overall in the United States dropped 3 percent during that same time.
The spike in Nashville’s homelessness is the sixth largest increase among the 38 U.S. cities included in the “Hunger and Homelessness Survey,” released Dec. 14 from the United States Conference of Mayors. The report provides a snapshot of homelessness in major cities.
More than 2,300 people are currently experiencing homelessness in Nashville, according to the last Point-In-Time (PIT) Count conducted in January. The report reveals that two out of five homeless people in Nashville are experiencing chronic homelessness – defined by the federal government as being homeless repeatedly for long periods of time and having a disability including serious mental illness, chronic substance use disorders or chronic medical issues. The number, statistically 40.8 percent, tops all cities.
Other statistics in the report:
Nashville had one of the highest increases of unsheltered homelessness – 69 percent – from 2009 to 2016. During the PIT count earlier this year, 1,692 individuals in Nashville were identified as unsheltered homeless.
While Nashville has seen a 38.2 percent decrease from 2015-2016 in veterans experiencing homelessness, veterans make up 9 percent of the city’s homeless population – a percentage higher than the national average of 7 percent.
The percentage of homeless families in Nashville decreased by 24.9 percent from 2015 to 2016.
The report noted that homelessness nationwide declined almost 13 percent since 2009. Washington D.C. showed the highest rate of homelessness among the cities surveyed with a rate of 124 people experiencing homelessness for every 10,000 residents in the general population. Nashville fell in the middle of the spectrum of cities surveyed with 34 residents experiencing homelessness per 10,000 people.
The numbers for Nashville were compiled by the Metro Development and Housing Agency in June. MDHA spokesperson Jamie Berry attributed some of the increase in reported unsheltered homelessness to additional scouting by skilled outreach workers ahead of last January's PIT count.
Samuel Lester, an advocate with Open Table Nashville, called the PIT count an inaccurate measure of Nashville’s homeless population. He estimates the number at around 23,000 when including people staying in shelters and transitional housing.
“I think it’s convenient to say it’s not at an emergency level,” he said.
The increase in homelessness in the city – despite Nashville’s overall burgeoning economic scene – points to a decrease in affordable housing as the city’s demand for housing has increased.
Mayor Megan Barry, who has made increasing Nashville’s affordable housing supply a key issue in her office, called the numbers in the report “disheartening.”
“Over the coming year, and during the budget cycle, we will continue to seek out more opportunities to provide housing options and supportive services for individuals experiencing homelessness in Nashville,” she said in a statement. “I am grateful for all of the community partners who have stepped up to create a safe, warm and welcoming environment for the unhoused.”
The report notes in its summary, “Nearly all surveyed city officials identified the need for more mainstream housing assistance and more affordable housing as the most needed and currently insufficiently resourced tool to reduce homelessness.”
Mayor Barry has allocated $10 million in funding for the Barnes Funds For Affordable Housing. There are 500 affordable and workforce housing units either built, planned or under construction through the Barnes Funds and other initiatives from the mayor’s office.
How’s Nashville – a Metro initiative launched in 2013 – has increased housing from 19 to 55 people chronically experiencing homelessness housed a month, according to the mayor’s office.
Lester applauded Barry’s focus on homelessness, but said many advocates need more from her administration – including a comprehensive plan and increased funding for affordable housing – to effectively reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness.
“The mayor’s policy on this seems to be ‘we’re going to leave this to the nonprofits,’” he said. “Affordable housing is needed not just by people experiencing homelessness, but by many Nashville workers.”
The report included praise for exemplary homelessness services or outreach programs. Vanderbilt and Park Center’s Street Psychiatry Program was commended for “providing services to individuals experiencing homelessness wherever they are,” including encampments and street corners.
The report also noted the work of Safe Haven for its Family Empowerment Program, and the low barrier affordable housing available to veterans at Whispering Oaks Apartments.