Believe it or not, this week marks the five-year anniversary of Open Table Nashville! Five years ago this week, Nashvillians were working together to stabilize and rebuild in the aftermath of the flood, displaced people from Tent City and all over Nashville were sleeping in Lipscomb University’s Red Cross Shelter, and homeless outreach teams were working round the clock to gather supplies and find safe camping space for over 140 unhoused friends who were flooded from the banks of the Cumberland River. At this time five years ago, sick to death of seeing our most vulnerable neighbors slip through the gaps that exist in our social service networks, the idea for an alternative community was born out of the waters of chaos. The Open Table founders had a vision of holistic healing for broken bodies and spirits to be re-membered into their community. We committed to being a voice that would disrupt the cycles of poverty that crush the marginalized, to walking side by side as friends with the friendless, and to educating people about the roots causes of homelessness.
What a journey these last five years have been! Our first crisis response effort in the wake of the flood was a temporary encampment in Antioch, on land donated by the Beaman family. From there, we moved to the parsonage at Hobson United Methodist Church and created a one-of-a-kind transitional community house where residents had the opportunity to rest, heal, share, and re-build on their way to permanent housing. In the spring of 2013, the parsonage was sold, and we stepped back to imagine again how our scrappy team of outreach workers and volunteers could best stand in the gaps.
We’ve always believed in the Housing First model of care that says the safety and rest of permanent housing is the first and most vital form of “treatment” people need in recovery and is a human right. It just so happened that the How’s Nashville campaign (based on Housing First) was incubating that winter and spring, and we were able to jump into the planning and implementation full force. This marked a transformative year for our city as collaboration between government entities, homeless service providers, and the private sector turned a vital corner. We all joined efforts, finally planning and working together to end chronic homelessness in Nashville. In the first 2 years of this campaign, our city has housed 1000+ people, and the OTN team has personally provided the outreach, housing navigation, and support for 205 of those folks! We cannot stress enough how vital these collaborative partnerships and our willingness to share resources are in tackling homelessness, maintaining housing retention, and in changing the perception of homelessness in our city.
We are growing and changing, too. In the past five years we have grown from an unpaid staff of 1 to a staff of 5 full-time and 2 part-time folks, and a dedicated board of directors. We’ve been through some lean times and some deep heart-aches, but we have never given up or been abandoned. We recognize (and frequently recount) all the people who have showed up along the way to offer prayers, funds, and helping hands when we needed them most. We give thanks for all of you who have shown up in a pinch, saved lives in the darkest winters, brought meals, pulled strings, raised money, hauled furniture, kept vigil in hospital rooms or camps, marched with us, sent encouraging notes, and ridden out the storms with us. We are truly grassroots –– funded and held together by the might and love of hundreds of people.
We’d like to thank you all in person, and we invite you to our Anniversary Celebration on September 17th at Acme Feed & Seed! We can’t wait to celebrate with you the work of these last five years, and we’ll unveil the results of our strategic planning committee and all the good things we hope to do in the years to come. Stay posted for more news and an invitation to follow!
Your OTN family