To disrupt cycles of poverty and homelessness, Open Table Nashville believes we must work to change policies. We have identified five key areas we think are most important. 

While these are our five main policy areas, we also know that homelessness is deeply interconnected with other issues like racial justice, economic justice, food justice, workers’ rights, immigrant and refugee rights, LGBT+ rights, women’s rights, transportation justice, environmental justice, disability justice, education, and more. To this end, we partner with other organizations in order to build a more hospitable, equitable, and just community for everyone.

Affordable Housing + Housing First 

We believe that housing is not only the foundation of healthy communities, it is a human right. To live without housing often means to live in subhuman conditions. While research shows that providing housing to people experiencing homelessness is less expensive that keeping them on the streets, national funding for housing has been slashed since the 1980s. In order to end homelessness, we must invest in dignified, accessible, affordable housing in our communities. The “Housing First” approaches provide immediate, low-barrier, permanent housing with wrap-around services. 

Ending the Criminalization of Poverty & Homelessness

While we know that homelessness is not a crime, our friends on the street are often cited and arrested for acts of daily living like sleeping (“trespassing”) or sitting to rest (“obstructing the passageway”). These charges only exacerbate homelessness by adding court fees, fines, and a background that makes it even more difficult to obtain housing and employment. Forcibly closing homeless encampments when housing is not available is not an adequate solution to homelessness. 

Equitable Development

As cities like Nashville grow, more can be done to limit displacement due to gentrification and ensure that the growth benefits everyone – not just developers and large corporations. Some tools for equitable development include Community Benefits Agreements, Inclusionary Zoning, Community Land Trusts, Municipal Land Banks, using Tax Increment Financing for projects that benefit low-income families, and increasing funding for the Barnes Housing Trust Fund. 

Health Care Affordability & Accessibility

The lack of access to affordable health care both causes and exacerbates homelessness, sometimes triggering irreversible illnesses and early death. The National Healthcare for the Homeless Council says, “On average, people without homes die 30 years earlier than their housed counterparts.” When people rely on emergency and crisis services, costs are driven up and health outcomes decline. Providing health care and housing saves money and lives. 

Ending Mass Incarceration + Restorative & Transformative Justice 

We believe in a culture of restoration and transformation rather than condemnation and punishment. The NAACP reports that “the United States makes up about 5% of the world’s population and has 21% of the world’s prisoners.” Furthermore, jails and prisons have become the largest mental health care providers in Tennessee and across the nation. Instead of increasing funding for housing, mental and physical health care, food assistance, and living wages, lawmakers and taxpayers are funding more jails and prisons. Instead of restoring people to the community, our criminal justice system further traumatizes people who could have avoided incarceration if more support had been available. Models of Restorative and Transformative Justice offer community solutions for rehabilitation, reconciliation, and re-establishing a sense of peace, security, and restoration for everyone involved.