The annual count of people experiencing homelessness — called the PIT (Point-in-Time) Count — was released on May 8 by the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency. And while the number of people experiencing decreased by 14 percent from 2018, MDHA, the Homeless Impact Division and advocates alike all say the overall number is not totally representative of homelessness in Nashville.
MDHA says the PIT Count, while an important metric, “should be considered as one among a variety of sources of data needed to tell the whole story of homelessness,” according to a release.
“A decrease of this size is something to be proud of,” Mayor David Briley said in the release. “The Homelessness Planning Council and service providers across our community are clearly moving the needle on ending homelessness. While this is a promising trend, we know there is more we can do to make sure everyone in Nashville has access to housing.”
Lindsey Krinks with the nonprofit Open Table Nashville says that the annual count has never been accurate.
“While MDHA’s final PIT Count number only found 1,986 people experiencing homelessness, we estimate that approximately 20,000 people are un-housed in Nashville,” Krinks says. “[That] number [is] high enough to completely fill Bridgestone Arena.”
The PIT Count typically happens on one of the coldest nights of the year. On January 22 and 23, more than 100 volunteers from 23 agencies and universities canvassed to find people experiencing homelessness throughout the city. The temperature was around 35 degrees that night, according to MDHA. Because of how the federal government defines homelessness, people counted on that night only include those found in shelters, transitional housing facilities, outside, in a vehicle or in abandoned buildings. (People staying at Room In The Inn and the Nashville Rescue Mission are counted.)
Because the count relies on the definition used for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, many go uncounted. For example, as MDHA points out in its release, including the definitely from the U.S. Department of Education would all for a more broad definition of homelessness that would count people living in motels or children in families who are doubled up and crammed into a home because of eviction or another housing loss.
Vicky Batcher, a vendor for The Contributor, lives in her RV. She was concerned that she was among the uncounted that evening. Batcher often parks her RV in places on the edge of town, and feels that people who are not in the core of the city are not being counted — particularly since rising costs are causing many to be pushed away from the downtown area.
“While the PIT count is important, it makes me wonder how many weren't counted,” Batcher says. “I wasn't.”
Krinks and other advocates know many people personally who are not included in the count.
“We see new faces on the streets every week and know the names and stories of the people living without stable housing in Nashville who aren’t included in the count,” Krinks says. “We know the disabled couple who is couch surfing because they were evicted when a developer flipped their apartment. We know the mother and children living in a $250-a-week bug-infested motel while they wait on subsidized housing. We know the man who is in the ICU for a traumatic brain injury. We know the man who is in jail because he was arrested for trespassing for sleeping on private property. None of these people are included in MDHA’s PIT Count.”
The decrease could also present a problem in funding.
“In order to access its Continuum of Care homeless funding, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that communities across the country conduct an annual Point-In-Time count of persons experiencing homelessness that are unsheltered, as well as sleeping in emergency shelter or transitional housing, on a single night during the last 10 days of January,” the MDHA release says. “The count numbers will be reported to HUD in late April.”
It’s yet to be seen exactly how that will impact funding for the CoC, but it will undoubtedly result in some loss of money for homelessness in the city.
“We are working hard to improve the functionality of our community’s Homeless Management Information System, and we are asking for additional resources to do that,” said Judith Tackett, director of the Homeless Impact Division of Metro Social Services. “Not only will an effective HMIS allow us to produce and evaluate annual data but it will also improve the efficiency in which people can access services in our community.”
MDHA says they’ll continue to use various data points to look at homelessness in Nashville.
“To that end, an annualized count that accounts for all types of homelessness over the course of a year will be invaluable to painting a more complete picture of the state of homelessness in Nashville-Davidson County,” MDHA says.
Krinks says she believes “that homelessness will continue to grow in hidden and obvious ways in the Nashville area and beyond until we adequately address our affordable housing crisis,” but adds that she’s proud of the ways “homeless service providers, the Metro Homeless Impact Division, and others are working together to connect struggling individuals and families with housing in one of the tightest housing markets in the country.”
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Info courtesy of MDHA
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