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1,347 Friends and That’s Not Even the Half of It.

December 12, 2010

One year ago this December, I wrote about The Fight of a Lifetime. A fight that still brings the rawest of emotion out of me. The story from that post was about my city’s struggle with homelessness and its deep need to secure more permanent housing solutions for all of our residents. It spoke about Project Homeless Connect in Nashville, a project fundamentally rooted in removing as many barriers to housing in a single day as is possible. (Or at least the way that possibility is currently pictured within our minds.)

But little did I know, when I wrote that post a year ago, how much things would change in one year. And, unfortunately, I don’t mean for the better. Let me take a step back for a minute.

We’ve known for the past couple of years now that at least 4,000 individuals, including children, are homeless on any given night in Nashville, TN. That’s within the city limits of Davidson County. So, that’s roughly within 500 square miles of land. An area that (according to the 2007 Census) has a population of 620,000 people. Do the calculation, and that means equal to .65% of Nashville’s total population is homeless. HOMELESS. Without a home. Does that hit you as hard as it does me?

That’s more than quadruple the number of people that ride the Music City Star (commuter train) each day. A service, that I might add, has cost roughly $9.4 million dollars since its construction in 2006. ($3.3 million for construction and $1.7 + $4.4 million in financial bailouts to keep the service running until 2011.) That’s $6,575 dollars per day to transport 866 people (Q3 2010).

I know that homeless individuals are not statistics. (No more than I am a statistic.) They are friends, they are family, they are people just like you and me, with personal stories often rich with love, pain, worries, and hope. Just like the rest of us. We must remember this. But, still, the statistics help us to put the issue in perspective, that we might know the size of the challenge that we face. Not to be intimidated, but that we might see the very real urgency. That we might look at this life and death situation of our brothers and sisters and intervene in order to help overcome it. It is our obligation, if you see it as I do. That together we might build a stronger community sooner rather than when it’s too late for some. (Our vulnerability index shows that nearly 42% of Nashville’s homeless population is at risk of dying on the streets.)

Yes, I wrote about The Fight in December of last year, but since then I’ve written about The Flood and its unpredicted destruction of Nashville’s tent city. Following that post, I wrote about a World of Poverty. One that includes the issues of relational and imagination poverties within our own houses and neighborhoods and often within our homeless communities as well.

It’s been a tough year for Nashville’s homeless. Not only did the flood wash away Nashville’s last real chance at a tent city for a while, but, too, its residents were run out of each corner of our city by unwelcoming neighbors. I still remember the harsh words “The gates of charity are closed!” being shouted by a PASTOR in reference to homeless individuals being unwelcome in his neighborhood. In addition, the flood was also a financial and volunteer drain for the city. Our residents have poured donations and volunteer time into rebuilding what once existed in April, and was at that time taken for granted. I’m not, for one second, saying that we shouldn’t have done this. We HAD to. It was the only way. We couldn’t give up. It’s in our nature to BE Nashville and to help our neighbors get back to a normal life.  Instead, what I am trying to portray is the state of where we find ourselves now.

If we look at our Project Homeless Connect event one year after my last post, both volunteer counts and key financial donations were  defined as a struggle. Volunteer counts decreased from over 700 in 2009 to about 450 this year. Financial support for the Housing First program is also in dire need. In addition, another predicament that we find ourselves in is: rental occupancy rates have been at a rare high which means fewer units available for the lower income/homeless.  I’ve heard over and over again that the city’s residents are maxed out following the flood. It’s true. We must realize this, and we must find a new way for reaching what we need. We cannot be satisfied that some cannot do it, but we must find those who can. This year we’ve gained a new support and voice for Housing First – and he’s currently one of Nashville’s biggest heroes: #28 Chris Johnson. He’s voiced a new PSA for Housing First, and he’s stepped up when a hero was needed.

Our first year at Project Homeless Connect, 1,078 homeless individuals were served. During our second year, that number was 1,558. This year, the intake number on-site was 1,347, but it looks like the total served will end up being around 1,500, with a higher percentage of families than before. All this to say, the number of people needing assistance to move out of homelessness is not decreasing. Therefore, we cannot afford to decrease our efforts. Yes, there is more need in our city. There is more struggle. Especially following a huge recession and flood. As I’ve said before, “The point is NOT guilt. When guilt becomes the point, love gets lost in the shuffle. Guilt helps NO ONE. Love helps everyone involved.”

But our city has overcome challenges larger than this in the past. Eventually, the pay-off is always worth it. We save lives. And if that’s not good enough for you. You should also know that we, as a city, save money by housing people.

It costs about $17,000 per person per year to provide housing plus intensive case management. In comparison, it costs communities an average of $35,000 per person per year to manage homelessness as we have done during the past 20 years by leaving people to fend for themselves utilizing our social services systems, jails, prisons, hospitals, ERs, and Detox facilities. (TKA Blog, Source)

If you think that this isn’t relevant to you because you don’t live in Nashville, try researching the homelessness situation within your own city. If you find that it’s a non-issue, please let me know what you’re doing. Because if you’ve found a solution, the best thing you can do is to share it!

I also understand that homelessness is not everyone’s passion. We each have our own things that keep us awake at night. I encourage YOU to comment with your passion that keeps you up at night. Tell me what is that you believe needs to be done in our world. I am ready to learn.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2010 8:21 am

    This is also one of the problems my country face today – Much of Poverty and homelessness! Actually I wrote an article about it. http://bit.ly/gM4cro

    Thanks for sharing Ben. Hats off to you!

  2. December 20, 2010 6:19 pm

    Not to take away from your article, but 4000 out of 620,000 is 0.65%, not 6.5%. The point is still valid, but a mistake like that would allow many to question the validity of the whole thing.

    • December 20, 2010 9:22 pm

      I would encourage everyone to question everything you read here. I write for myself out of passion and no one proofreads my writing/numbers prior to postin. Mistakes/misplaced periods are bound to happen late at night when writing from the hospital! Still, my apologies for the mistake.

      Thanks for reading. 🙂

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