Around 20 times from Nov. 8, 2018 through early March of last year, temperatures in Nashville got low enough that Metro opened overflow shelters for people sleeping on the streets. When the weather drops below 28 degrees, emergency shelters open and volunteers canvass camps and places they know people often sleep outside, attempting to encourage people to come in to the emergency shelters.
When news came the week of Oct. 15 that those shelters would not open this winter, service providers, people experiencing homelessness and others where shocked. Since the city started a cold weather emergency plan in 2016, the system has been far from perfect. But it’s been something. And the people who cobble together a plan to try and keep people safe in cold temperatures were not prepared to hear that they’d be on their own to figure it all out.
The potential closing of emergency shelters is a big deal not just because without a plan, many people have to sleep in the cold, but because every year people die in extreme cold in this city. Simply put, it’s a matter of life and death. At last year’s Homeless Memorial held at Riverfront Park, Open Table Nashville said six people died in the cold in the winter of 2017.
Within a couple days of the announcement that shelters wouldn’t open this winter, newly elected Mayor John Cooper announced the city would fully fund emergency shelters this winter — something that’s not happened in the past. Although shelters will open this winter, a full plan had not been announced as of press time.
“Metro’s emergency shelter program will be fully funded and one hundred percent operational this coming winter,” Cooper said in a release. “As soon as we learned that Metro departments did not have the funding this year to open the overflow shelter, my administration moved to address the problem. I am committed to protecting the most vulnerable members of our community, and I’m tremendously thankful to our friends in the many non-profit and religious organizations in Nashville who do such good work on behalf of our unsheltered and unhoused neighbors.”
The fluster of activity — people advocated, asked how to help, found out more about issues of homelessness in Nashville — that happened over the announcement of a lack of funding to open shelters did bring the issue right out in the open.
“We look forward to hearing more about the plan and funds and are so thankful for everyone who advocated about this issue,” reads a Facebook post from Open Table Nashville, a local nonprofit that works with people experiencing homelessness and educates the community around issues of poverty.“It was beautiful to see so many people rallying together to make sure no one is left out in the cold this winter. It sounds like the conversation will continue and we look forward to working with everyone toward solutions that not only keep our friends safe in the extreme weather, but ultimately move toward ending homelessness in Nashville!”