Oasis Center, which provides services for youth in crisis in Nashville, has been awarded $3.4 million in federal funds to address youth homelessness over the next two years. On Tuesday, the center announced how they will use those funds as part of a Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project.
Of those funds, $2.1 million will be designated for providing housing — which includes rental assistance and case management to 70 young adults ages 18 to 24. And $1.2 million of those funds will be to stabilize young adults so they don’t end up in the crisis response system to begin with.
Mayor David Briley addressed the crowd and thanked Oasis Center for the decades of work they’ve done for youth.
“Today is a good day for the city of Nashville because we’re able to announce some important steps for addressing probably the most important issue that we have in the city right now,” Briley said. “That is the fact that as we grow we’re becoming more and more expensive and in fact, too expensive for most. At the same time, young people in our culture, in our city, are experiencing a lot more trauma than ever before. Those two things come together and we have an epidemic of youth homelessness here in Nashville.”
The 40-page plan has five main goals:
“To identify all unaccompanied youth and young adults experiencing homelessness in Nashville-Davidson County.
Prevent and divert homelessness whenever possible and otherwise provide immediate access to low-barrier crisis housing and services to any youth who needs and wants it.
Effectively link all youth experiencing homelessness to housing and services solutions that are tailored to their needs through the use of the Coordinated Entry System [a database which lets local organizations work together and track the status of those experiencing homelessness]
Swiftly assist youth to move into permanent or non-time-limited housing options with appropriate services and supports
As a community, have resources, plans and system capacity in place to continue to prevent and quickly end future experiences of homelessness among youth and young adults”
Alesha Alexcee, one of the members of the Youth Action Board that has been meeting weekly for the past six months to advise this plan, shared her story. She lived in 10 residences from the age of 18 to 23 while she worked her way through college, sometimes even sleeping in college administration buildings. She’s been in stable housing for two years now.
“I thought for sure that my golden ticket out of homelessness was graduating from college or getting a good job,” Alexcee said. “It was neither. It was actually signing my first lease to my first apartment on Aug. 2, 2017 that got me out of homelessness. I can now say that I’ve been stably housed for the last two years. Obviously this is a huge deal for me. I’ve spent five years experiencing homlessness — five years too long.”
She says it’s not enough just to be housed, but it’s also important to have quality youth-centric support services. She said she and her peers on the Youth Action Board have often felt frustrated by trying to navigate the city’s services, and that some programs who claim to be trauma-informed simply aren’t. She said the purpose of the board was to give youth and young adults experiencing homelessness a chance to sign their own leases and to hold service providers accountable for creating services that are, in fact, trauma-informed.
“We wanted to give each youth and young adult a chance to say, I am here, I am safe, I am home,” Alexcee said.
Chief Strategy Officer of the Oasis Center Mark Dunkerly said the plan cannot be truly effective without community support. A separate handout was given at the event detailing how the public can help.
“While this is the biggest thing that’s happened in Nashville’s history for this population, this, in and of itself, is not going to end youth homelessness,” Dunkerly said. “It is a giant first step and that we could not be more excited about, but we need your help. This is the momentum we’ve been looking for and now is the time when we’re asking the community for help.”
Oasis Center has funds to help keep young adults in housing, but they have the most trouble finding landlords who are willing to rent their apartments to young people.
Oasis Center is also in need of funds to be used in one of three ways. One is to renovate the office space to accommodate the 16-18 new people they are adding to the staff. Oasis Center is also charged with matching 25 percent of the grant, meaning they will need a total of $423,000 per year in cash and in-kind support. They still need to raise $75,000. The third use will be for a Landlord Mitigation Fund, which could help pay for any damages to units, as many of the young people might not have someone to co-sign a lease with them.
Willing landlords are encouraged to contact Michael Centi (firstname.lastname@example.org).