Nashville missing out on federal funds for homelessness
Nashville has the resources to relieve the city’s homelessness, authors of an external report reviewing the city’s approach to addressing homelessness told Metro Council members and stakeholders Thursday.
“This is a will issue,” said Andreanecia Morris, one of the HousingNOLA report authors.
The report commissioned by Metro recommends creating a standalone Office of Homeless Services, shrinking the Homeless Planning Council and building more permanent supportive housing. Its authors presented findings Thursday, but the report itself has yet to be published.
The authors emphasized a need to streamline communication and coordination among groups working on homelessness response and how holes in the city’s data collection are preventing Nashville from receiving larger funding awards from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The location of more than 15% of people receiving permanent supportive housing assistance over the past five years was unknown or the data is missing in the Homeless Management Information System, the report found.
HUD looks at HMIS data to allocate funding. Currently, Nashville receives about $6.4 million per year in HUD award funding. New Orleans, which is about half Nashville’s size, receives nearly $26.3 million per year.
“You as a city are getting much less than other comparable cities from HUD because you are not reporting that you are housing your chronically homeless, which is HUD’s priority,” said Sam Tsemberis, one of the report’s authors. “So that’s why it’s so important to focus on this group. It could almost double your revenue.”
Stacy Horn Koch, one of the report’s authors, said her research included interviewing more than 40 members of the organizations reviewed, including those of the Homeless Planning Council.
Over the last few months, there has been a worsening strife among the planning council members.
“It was one of the most startling things that I heard, of late in the HPC meetings, people and I heard this from people both of color and not of color, are traumatized by the amount of aggression in the meetings,” Horn Koch said.
The report points to the group’s lack of diversity, culture of distrust and inability to govern as reasons for its inefficiencies.
Karri Gornick, vice president of housing and development at youth outreach organization The Oasis Center and a member of the Homeless Planning Council, wasn’t surprised by the recommendations from the external reviewers.
Gornick said the Continuum of Care and the Homeless Planning Council have been asking for more funding for people who are chronically homeless and to create more permanent supportive housing.
Without being able to review the report herself, she said she struggled with how established providers’ efforts were depicted in the presentation.
“My challenge is that it was painted as that the community doing the work hasn’t been doing enough, hasn’t been focusing on the right population,” Gornick said.
Horn Koch pointed to Milwaukee, where people poured in effort for years but only gained real traction after the local government took responsibility for coordinating resources. Having strong will was not enough — it took organization.
Councilmember Freddie O’Connell, a member of the Homeless Planning Commission and a candidate for the 2023 mayoral election, said he found portions of the presentation validating.
The HPC has been pushing for more permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people, HMIS improvements and taking a renewed approach to Nashville’s current coordinated entry index, which recent studies have shown can create discriminatory outcomes, he said.
While some of the report’s criticisms of the HPC are valid, O’Connell said the presentation was “a little less skeptical or critical of some of the choices of this administration” and did not acknowledge a “longstanding gap” in communication between the mayor’s office and the HPC or the resignations of key MHID staff over the last year.
The mayor’s administration commissioned the study after O’Connell introduced a bill to create an Office of Housing and Homelessness separate from mayoral control. A revised form of the bill will be on its second of three readings on June 7. O’Connell said he will introduce a “compromise” amendment that would allow the HPC’s executive committee to recommend finalists for the office’s director role to the mayor’s office, instead of the director being appointed solely by the mayor as the consultants’ report suggests.
“Based on the slides and the discussion today, I am not persuaded that in this moment an accountability structure flowing from the mayor’s office is going to deliver the outcomes they’re hoping,” O’Connell said.
Metro Council members, HPC members, Mayor John Cooper and representatives from Cooper’s office were present for the presentation Thursday.
“Maybe we can get the alignment across all of those groups and this will be Nashville’s moment, and that would be the best possible outcome,” O’Connell said.
Cassandra Stephenson covers Metro government for The Tennessean. Arcelia Martin covers Nashville growth and development.