How will Nashville address the city’s affordable housing crisis that is pushing people into homelessness? A panel discussion, organized by Conscious Conversation, brought together Nashville leaders who are looking for answers.
The event, part of the Conscious Conversation’s monthly discussion series, was held Feb. 23 at Refinery Nashville – one year after the organization hosted a discussion on gentrification in the city. Around 75 people attended the event.
“The value of this conversation (for the audience) will be to hear the facts, hear what the people who are on the ground are seeing and doing in the homeless population, and finding a way to get involved,” said Jarrett Strickland, one of the co-producers of Conscious Conversation. He noted that the city has seen a 10 percent spike in homelessness since last year’s discussion on the topic.
“People have these conversations in silos, but what does it look like when we have these conversations as a whole? If we have organized people, who are direct about what they want done, things can actually get done,” he added.
Panelists included Councilman Freddie O’Connell, District 19; Nicole Brandt, founder and executive director of Poverty and the Arts; Brian E. Sexton, affordable housing development specialist at New Level Community Development Corp; Adam Graham, housing and grants coordinator for homeless programs at Urban Housing Solutions Inc; Justin Singleton, McKinney-Vinto Homeless Program coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Education; and Linda Bailey, vendor office manager for The Contributor.
Bailey was able to speak from the perspective of someone who works directly with people experiencing homelessness, as she hears first-hand how Contributor vendors struggle to attain affordable housing, then stay housed once they’re off the streets.
Much of the discussion focused on staying informed about lawmakers' actions regarding affordable housing, and providing support systems for people experiencing homelessness and new to stable housing.
O’Connell, whose district has the highest per capita rate of poverty, criticized state lawmakers who have taken actions against Metro bills aimed at increasing affordable housing, growing the local workforce and regulating short-term rentals.
A Republican-backed state bill, introduced Feb. 9, would enact a statewide policy for short-term rentals, and would prohibit the local governing body from regulating the use of property as a short-term rental unit. The bill undoes regulations put into place by Metro Council. O'Connell pointed to the existence of short-term rentals directly affecting the amount of accessible affordable housing.
“Our regional area is voting against Middle Tennessee’s economic interest. We have to pay attention to this,” he said.
Panelists also focused on the importance of providing an entire scope of care to people experiencing homelessness or those new to housing.
"When people experiencing homelessness are only allowed where other homeless people are welcome, then the mindset is perpetuating,” Brandt told the audience. Her organization provides creative outlets for artists overcoming homelessness. "One of the big things is how to look at someone who is homeless as this holistic issue, not just how do we get them into housing, but how do we give them something to do once they’re in housing?
"But most importantly, community and building relationships once they’re not in survival mode. (Community) is really critical once they’re in housing.”
Bailey added, “When I see people come into The Contributor and start doing it and start being a part of our team, it can really help them. There are a lot of people in Nashville who want to help in any way they can – and (community) helps.”
Conscious Conversation's next panel in March will focus on upcoming politicians. More information is available at www.consciousconversation.co.