Family Homelessness in the “It City”

By Becca Dryden


As the Resource Coordinator for Open Table, I talk on the phone often with people trying to navigate the complicated web of social services in Nashville. I talk to folks with all sorts of different experiences and life stories, but lately I’ve been noticing a recurring theme in my work: family homelessness. It seems like every day, I receive a call from another family who has lost their housing because the landlord decided to sell, new management raised the rent, or a vague eviction notice simply provided an “out-by” date. Families who had a home within their budget have been forced out with little opportunity to find a comparable rental property to accommodate both their budgets and the size of their families. In these situations, the only immediate option, the local rescue mission, isn’t even an option for many families. The mission provides a very important service for unhoused folks in our community, but for some families—such as single fathers, families with teenage boys, families with parents who need to be together for emotional or other needs—it isn’t a viable option. In these cases, parents are left without a safe place to take themselves and their children.

Full disclosure, I am a mother of a toddler. This colors my view of the world, and I hope it can be an asset in some situations. A lot of parents joke (though with some truth) about “surviving” parenthood. I certainly have days where survival feels like an accomplishment. For families experiencing unstable housing, displacement, and homelessness, survival takes on a whole new meaning. Survival means not just getting through toddler meltdowns and sleepless nights; it means finding enough to eat, doing whatever it takes to have a safe place for your children to sleep at night, fighting to keep your family together, hoping to avoid illness, and praying that somehow this broken system won’t overlook you and your family.

The reality is that this broken system is overlooking so many families. Our city is growing and flourishing at the expense of families who already live here. They are our neighbors and we, the “It City,” have a responsibility to make sure they aren’t pushed out of their homes. For those who are unhoused, we must ensure there are ample options and resources. Until that happens, my job as the Resource Coordinator for Open Table will continue to be complicated by the lack of actual options to offer to families experiencing homelessness.
I could end on some sort of hopeful note with a story of the resilience and strength of these families, some silver lining so that we can step away without feeling the burden of this reality.  To do so would be a disservice to the seriousness of this issue. When I talk to parents dealing with displacement and trying to find the help to merely scrape by, I can’t help but be outraged. Discomfort and anger seems to me an appropriate response to the reality of family homelessness. I hope we can take that anger and make the necessary changes in our city for the parents and children just trying to survive.