Call to Action

ASK COUNCIL TO APPROVE $40.2 MILLION FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Council Member Colby Sledge has filed legislation to allocate additional ARP funds for the Barnes Affordable Housing Trust Fund, to create a Catalyst Housing Fund for affordable housing purchases, and to create a centralized database of subsidized housing. 

Please email your council member and ask them to vote YES for this substitute amendment!

Don’t know who your council person is? Look them up by your address online here: https://www.nashville.gov/departments/council/metro-council-members

Read the substitute amendment to RS2021-1260 online here (page 32): https://nashville.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=E1&ID=909480&GUID=7118BE04-9C63-4850-AAF2-14BFDDD9FB13 

Use our sample email below! 


SAMPLE EMAIL

SUBJECT: FUND AFFORDABLE HOUSING, VOTE YES FOR SUBSTITUTE AMENDMENT FOR RS2021-1260

Dear Council Member,

Nashville has an unprecedented opportunity to make a significant and much needed investment in affordable housing. 

Council Member Colby Sledge has filed a substitute amendment for RS2021-1260 that would increase allocation of ARP monies to $40.2 million for the Barnes Affordable Housing and Catalyst Funds.

Other major cities have also seized this unique opportunity to utilize their ARP monies to make significant investments in housing related initiatives in their communities including $50 million in Denver, $89 million in Louisville, $216 million in Austin.

Our city’s lack of affordable housing is an issue that affects every single person in this city in one way or another. We need to use this rare influx of federal dollars to ensure that every person in Nashville has a place to not only live, but to thrive. Will you co-sponsor this legislation or vote in support?

Your constituent,
NAME
ADDRESS?DISTRICT

CALL TO ACTION

HELP US ASK METRO COUNCIL TO INVEST IN HOUSING, NOT THE CRIMINALIZATION OF HOMELESSNESS!

Big things are happening within our community! Advocates have long been pushing for an independent entity tasked with preserving and creating affordable housing and administering resources to those experiencing homelessness. We are confident that we finally have the political will, momentum, and timing needed to make a huge structural investment in Nashville’s social service system, but we need YOUR VOICE to ensure our ask is heard by Metro Council! 

Recently, Judith Tackett, Director of Metro’s Homeless Impact Division (MHID), resigned effective immediately. Our community is at a loss, as we recognize and sincerely thank Judy for her decade of service spent advocating for housing for our city’s most vulnerable. 

While Nashville could maintain the status quo by simply rehiring for this position, we are asking Metro Council to instead seize this opportunity to commit to prioritizing affordable housing for all residents of Nashville by supporting Council Member Freddie O’Connell’s  BL2021-971 that calls for the creation of Nashville’s first Office of Housing and Homelessness.

While these conversations around serious structural investments in Nashville’s housing and homelessness sector are happening, some in the Mayor’s Office and in Metro Council are simultaneously trying to pass a resolution that will appropriate $1.9 million in American Rescue Plan monies to Metro Parks for anti-homelessness infrastructure. RS2021-1204 would irresponsibly use these funds to purchase bobcats, excavators, and more “eye in the sky” surveillance cameras to monitor and demolish homeless encampments. Our leaders should be investing these dollars into housing and resources that will help Nashvillians thrive instead of spending money on equipment that will be used to further criminalize homelessness and displace already unhoused Nashvillians with nowhere else to go. Nashville’s own Technical Advisor through the Department of Housing and Urban Development has even denounced the dismantling of camps that this resolution, if passed, would provide funding for. 

The past two years have demonstrated just how crucial housing is to the health and vitality of our communities — a place to quarantine during a pandemic, to attend virtual school, or to provide protection from deadly floods. The past two years have also demonstrated just how fleeting housing in Nashville is — be it from tornadoes or out of town developers.

We need YOUR help in order to make sure our elected officials invest in Nashville and do not misappropriate funds:

  1. Look up who your Metro Council Member is and their contact information online here
    1. Ask them to vote YES for BL2021-971. 
    2. Ask them to vote NO for RS2021-1204. You can use our sample email below!

SAMPLE EMAIL

SUBJECT: Vote YES for BL2021-971 and NO for RS2021-1204: Invest in Housing, Not the Criminalization of Homelessness!

TO: Your Council Member’s email here

Dear Metro Council Member,

I write to you as a concerned resident of your district to ask you to vote YES for O’Connell’s BL2021-971 calling for the creation of an independent Office of Housing and Homelessness and to vote NO for RS2021-1204 calling for the appropriation of $1.9 million in ARP monies towards anti-homelessness infrastructure. 

The lack of affordable housing in our community is an injustice that affects every person, every district, and every community in some way. While Nashville could maintain the status quo, I join the community in asking you to instead seize this opportunity to prioritize affordable housing in the city of Nashville by taking these steps to create Nashville’s first Office of Housing and Homelessness.

Other major cities, including Austin, Denver, Charlotte, and San Antonio all have robust departments of housing tasked with similar duties outlined in O’Connell’s legislation. Nashville needs to create our own dedicated Office of Housing and Homelessness so that our community can have the authority and resources needed to appropriately respond to the magnitude of our affordable housing crisis.

Likewise, I also ask that you denounce the legislation that irresponsibly spends monies on cameras, bobcats, and excavators that will further criminalize homelessness and displace unhoused Nashvillians with nowhere else to go.

With over 2,000 adults experiencing literal homelessness on any given night in Nashville, nearly 4,000 MNPS students experiencing homelessness during the course of their school year, a projected deficit of over 50,000 affordable units by the year 2030, and near daily news announcements of previously affordable housing properties being purchased by out-of-town developers, I urgently ask you to use your power to invest in our community by creating an Office of Housing and Homelessness and preventing the misappropriation of funds that could instead be invested in housing.

Sincerely,
(Your Name)
(Your Address)


Open Letter to TDMHSAS

Dear Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services:

We urgently write to you as concerned residents of Nashville-Davidson County and non-profit service providers to ask you to immediately restore full access to Narcan/Naloxone for organizations serving people experiencing homelessness.

Funding is available. We are aware of federal funds awarded to the state of Tennessee in 2021 via The American Rescue Plan amounting to $25 million through the Community Mental Health Block Grant Program and $27 million through Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Program. Surely this unprecedented flow of federal funds can be appropriately allocated to ensure accessibility of this life-saving medicine.

The individuals we serve have no other means through which to access Narcan. It has been suggested that the individuals we serve can access Narcan on their own if they are insured through TennCare. While this indeed is one way that someone enrolled in TennCare can access Narcan, our service providers confirm that only about 10% of the individuals that we work with are actually eligible and enrolled in TennCare. As a result, the supply of Narcan that the non-profit providers in Nashville-Davidson County have access to truly is the only way many Nashvillians can access this life-saving medicine.

Time is of the essence. Metro Nashville Public Health reported a 32% increase in overdose-related deaths in 2020. Likewise, their second quarter data from 2021 already reported an 11% increase in overdose deaths compared to this time last year. This request could not be more timely, as we are in the midst of Overdose Prevention Awareness Week as proclaimed by The White House. In this spirit, we urge you to fulfil the responsibility granted to you under the Comprehensive Alcohol and Drug Treatment Act of 1973 by the Tennessee General Assembly by fully restoring our access to Narcan. We need your support in order to continue to save the lives of those in our community.

We ask that you use your position of power to protect our state’s most vulnerable residents. We can only ensure the safety and health of our community if we work together and if those who act as first responders – the outreach workers, street medics, service providers, and substance users themselves – are equipped with the tools necessary to do so.

Sincerely,

The Contributor
Colby’s Army
Mental Health Cooperative
Neighborhood Health
Open Table Nashville
People Loving Nashville
Shower the People
The Village at Glencliff

Call To Action

On June 1st, city officials and MNPD plan to clear and close the homeless encampment under the Jefferson Street Bridge, fence off the area, and “relocate” all remaining residents to Tent City – another encampment just south of downtown where newly announced development plans are  calling the camp’s future into question. Displacing residents who have nowhere to go and closing off public space are violent patterns that further entrench people in cycles of poverty and homelessness.

At Open Table Nashville, we believe that everyone has a right to safe and dignified housing. It is inhumane to close encampments when there is not enough affordable, accessible housing for those in need. While efforts are being made by service providers to connect residents with housing, it is both cruel and dangerous for Metro to consider moving the remaining residents to another crowded encampment that is also slated for closure. 

We also believe that everyone has a right to exist in public space. It is a misuse of public funds to pay for a fence that will prevent Nashville residents from receiving needed services on public land. The land beneath the Jefferson Street Bridge is significant because service providers like The Bridge Ministry have been providing services there for nearly 20 years. The services offered by these private, service-oriented, and faith-based groups have sustained untold thousands, providing food, clothing, toiletries, camping supplies, bicycles, community, and so much more when the city and state both failed to do so. The coverage of Jefferson Street Bridge has sheltered people from inclement weather and the 2020 tornado. It has served as a refuge to people who couldn’t get into Nashville’s shelters: couples, pet owners, intergenerational families, medically vulnerable, and others with barriers. Public property, paid for by taxpayers, should be used for the common good. 

In their “Tent City USA” report, the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness states, “Using the criminal justice system and other municipal resources to move people who have nowhere else to go is costly and counter-productive, for both communities and individuals… Research shows that housing is the most effective approach to end homelessness with a larger return on investment.” Current guidelines from the CDC offer similar guidance: “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.”

More humane and cost-effective alternatives to using taxpayer dollars to displace people and fence off public spaces include:

  • Offering hotel vouchers to residents who are waiting on housing. FEMA is currently offering 100% reimbursement rates for communities providing non-congregate shelter to individuals and families experiencing homelessness through at least September 2021 (see FEMA Statement 2021).
  • Creating a committee under the Nashville-Davidson County Continuum of Care (COC) to explore the creation of a sanctioned encampment. One successful model of a city-sanctioned camp is Camp Hope in Las Cruces, New Mexico that plays an integral role in the city’s response to homelessness (see p. 66 of “Tent City USA”).
  • Using the funds that would go into installing and maintaining a fence beneath the Jefferson Street Bridge to create a public park.
  • Investing in housing, education, health care, public parks, libraries, and other services and divesting from the criminal legal system, policing, and incarceration. The safest and healthiest communities are the communities with the most resources. 
  • Investing in Housing First models. Housing First provides housing and support services before requiring the person to obtain stable employment, be sober, or have all their mental/physical health needs addressed. Decades of research shows that housing is a necessary step in order to stabilize these other areas of life (see Family Options Study and Pathways Housing First Study). 

If you’re interested in following this story or taking action, you can:

  • Follow Open Table Nashville on social media where we will post updates.
  • Contact Governor Bill Lee’s office (615-741-2001, bill.lee@tn.gov). The majority of the land is owned by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

CALL TO ACTION!

Please take one minute to send the email below to let TN state legislators know that homelessness is not a crime!

HB0978/SB1610 would make solicitation or camping “on the shoulder, berm, or right-of-way of a state or interstate highway or under a bridge or overpass” a class C misdemeanor offense punishable by a $50 fine and community service work. It would also broaden the language within the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012 so that people could be prosecuted not only on state property, but also on all public property across Tennessee.

The bill is sponsored by State Representative Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta). Last year, the Mayor of Cookeville tried to pass a citywide anti-panhandling bill, but it was defeated by advocates who spoke out against the bill. Rep. Williams then took this effort to the state level and is claiming that people in his community wanted this.

Please join us in telling our elected officials that *homelessness is not a crime* and that our friends on the streets need housing – not fines, not citations, not handcuffs!

SAMPLE EMAIL:

SUBJECT: We Need Housing, Not Handcuffs – Vote NO on HB0978/SB1610

TO: sen.mike.bell@capitol.tn.gov Sen.Dawn.White@capitol.tn.gov sen.paul.rose@capitol.tn.gov sen.todd.gardenhire@capitol.tn.gov sen.sara.kyle@capitol.tn.gov sen.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov sen.kerry.roberts@capitol.tn.gov Sen.Katrina.Robinson@capitol.tn.gov sen.john.stevens@capitol.tn.gov

CC: rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.govsen.paul.bailey@capitol.tn.gov
sen.randy.mcnally@capitol.tn.gov

Dear Members Senate Judiciary Committee:

I am urgently writing to you as a concerned Tennessee resident to vote NO on advancing Tennessee House Bill 0978 (HB0978) and corresponding Senate Bill 1610 (SB1610). This proposed bill will further criminalize Tennessee’s most impoverished and vulnerable citizens for merely existing in public spaces without addressing the root cause of homelessness – the lack of affordable housing.

Here are four reasons why you should vote NO:

1) Criminalizing homelessness is not only unjust, but also adds additional barriers that prevent people from obtaining housing and employment. This bill will do nothing to truly help people who need social services, economic resources, and affordable housing. Handcuffs, fines, and citations can’t heal. Just last week, one of the men that Open Table Nashville (a homeless outreach nonprofit) is working with, was denied from housing because of a trespassing charge on his record from two years ago. (Even people who are approved for public housing through Section 8 often still have to get approval by private landlords to use their vouchers in local apartment complexes.)

2) Tennessee is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, and instead of pouring energy into criminalizing people without housing, we need you, our lawmakers, to invest in creating more affordable housing and lowering the barriers to existing units of housing. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, nearly one third of all Tennessee renters qualify as Extremely Low Income, and there is currently a shortage of at least 126,597 affordable homes for this income group across the state. In addition to adding barriers HB0978/SB1610 encroaches on protections granted by the 9th Circuit Court in Martin vs. Boise by criminalizing involuntary homelessness.

3) HB0978/SB1610 is fiscally irresponsible when you consider that housing people who experience chronic homelessness is less expensive than keeping them on the streets. According to multiple studies across the nation, an individual’s chronic homelessness can cost the public over $30,000 a year due to costs incurred through to use of emergency services and unnecessary and expensive interactions with our legal system. A housing-first approach would be both more fiscally responsible for the state of Tennessee and better for our communities by reducing the strain the experience of homelessness places on local hospitals, court rooms, and prisons.

4) In every major religion, there is a special concern for the poor and a mandate for people of faith and conscience to extend compassionate support. Deuteronomy 15:7-8 says, “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” Isaiah 10:1-2a says, Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people.” We are urging you as a leader of faith/conscience to do the right thing and care for the poor instead of criminalizing them.

For the above reasons and so much more, I ask you to vote NO on HB0978 and SB1610. I am asking that you vote on behalf of the thousands of unhoused Tennesseans who are also your deserving constituents. This bill will only further harm our neighbors without housing and make it even more difficult for them to obtain housing or employment (if they are not already employed, as we know the working homeless is one of the fastest growing subgroups of those experiencing homelessness). No one deserves to be without a home, and no one deserves to be criminalized for merely trying to survive. Tennesseans need housing, not handcuffs.

Sincerely,
(Your name)
(Your address)

Outreach for a Day

Hello, Friend!

My name is Susan, and I’m an outreach worker with Open Table Nashvile. I wanted to say thank you for your support and let you know how your gifts help me do my job. The easiest way to do that is to give you an idea of what a day in my life with Open Table looks like.

On a recent day —

Irma* picked up the brochure and began fanning herself with it. After a few seconds she read the words on the front and looked at me repeating them: “I’m a survivor.” She said it again, “I’m a survivor, Susan.” “In so many ways,” I said, filling out her follow-up paperwork. Whether she couldn’t see it, couldn’t read it, or just didn’t have the patience to complete it was unknown to me. A lot of people I work with can’t read. This gets them into all manner of medical, legal, financial, and housing trouble.

The waiting room was full, and now silently engaged in our conversation. Except for a television tuned to HGTV, and us, it was quiet. We talked about who got shot at Kwik Sak a couple of weeks ago. Irma was convinced I knew the victim but didn’t know who the shooter was. “Probably about drugs,” she said.

A few minutes later, a nurse opened the waiting room door and called Irma’s name. We both got up, and the nurse stopped me going in. “Am I not allowed to go?,” I asked.

“We’ll come get you in a few minutes,” she told me.

“Don’t leave me, Susan,” Irma called over her shoulder as I returned to my seat.

“I won’t leave you, Irma,” I called back.

People in the waiting room laughed. “Comical,” I thought. Then it dawned on me that all of us probably had some variation of the same feeling of abandonment. It was nervous laughter. That’s the thing with Irma. She makes you feel your feelings. Without even trying, shows you not only who she is, but who you are. She humbles me every time we’re together.

After her appointment, I drop Irma off on Murfreesboro Pike and return two calls and a text on the drive back across town. During the trip, I stopped in the street to speak to Chainsaw* and Terry*, who frequently need all their belongings replaced. They both sleep in doorways and abandoned buildings. Desperate people steal their things all the time; sometimes people even take their shoes. They ask for underwear. I tell them I’m out, but that I have socks and other items they might need. They ask for the sleeping bag visible in my backseat. I have to tell them that it’s for someone else and that I’ll get a couple more tomorrow. They tell me they love me and wish me a “blessed day.”

The phone rings again. This time it’s a social worker, trying to get insight into one of her clients, who’s currently in the hospital. “Are you helping him with housing?,” she asks. “And how is that going?” He is facing a potential amputation, and I tell her I think he will be denied housing. I also tell her I’ll continue to try. I won’t leave him, either.

I’m driving around, searching for Tom*, not knowing this is the day he’s chosen to return to rehab. A week ago, Tom was released from rehab, 150 miles away. The story goes that he was told they didn’t have a bed for the full thirty days, but that if he would call them in a week, they’d make it happen. So he came back to Nashville for the week to spend time with the only people he knew, friends who had not been to detox. Tom spent the weekend sleeping on the ground with no coat, falling off the wagon, and hating himself.

When I find him, I offer to take Tom to the thrift store for a coat. His emotions, worn thin by fate and circumstance, overtake him once he’s in the car. When Tom is upset, he stutters and cries; the two things feed each other. There’s nothing I can do but listen and hand him napkins. The tears are streaming into his lap by
the time he gets his questions out. They’re all questions I can’t answer:

“Why are people so broken?”
“Why doesn’t anybody care about us?
“How can they just leave people out here to die?”

Tom apologizes repeatedly for being so upset and asks if he can use my phone to call the rehab. Arrangements for his return include a Greyhound bus ride the following day at 6 a.m. and someone to pick him up at his destination. It takes two hours to confirm everything. Tom’s hope is restored by this plan and a $16 thrift store coat.

My phone is still ringing. This time it’s a pre-trial release officer calling to remind me of someone’s court date. The person doesn’t have a phone. I am now tasked to find him and let him know.

At 3.30 PM, the phone rings again, and a property manager at one of the housing towers asks if I can move someone in at 10 a.m. the following morning. It’s the third time in three weeks this has happened. This manager has backed up each time, having overbooked their move-ins and choosing to skip over my guy again. If I say I can’t move him in or that’s not enough time, they’ll move on to the next person on the list. “Yes,” I say, not sure I can actually find him, “we’ll be there at 10.”

And then I got up the next morning and did all the same kinds of things again.
I’m able to do my job, because of your gifts to Open Table Nashville. Without them, I wouldn’t have sleeping bags and socks to distribute. I wouldn’t have gas in my car to take Irma to the hospital or a mobile phone for Tom to use. I ask you to make a donation to help fund another day in this life. Irma, Tom, Chainsaw, Terry, and I all thank you.

Sincerely,

Susan Adcock
Westside Housing Navigator and Outreach Worker