NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — This August, Nashvillians will head to the polls to vote in the Metropolitan General Election.

Earlier this year, Mayor John Cooper announced he would not be seeking re-election, creating a wide-open field of candidates in the race to be the 10th mayor of Metro Nashville.

News 2 submitted questionnaires to each of the candidates running for Nashville mayor. The form featured six questions addressing some of Music City’s biggest issues. One of those issues candidates were asked about—Nashville’s homelessness crisis.

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Below you will find the answers candidates submitted for the question: How would you address the homelessness issues in Nashville? (Candidates are listed in alphabetical order.)

Natisha Brooks

“Start by reducing the property taxes back to where it was “Pre Covid”. The high price of rent is a result of increased property taxes. Work with the Non-Profit agencies along with a Grant Writing Team/Department to ensure that these agencies are never underfunded or without money.

Work with Leasing agencies towards reducing rent for those who have recently lost their jobs or struggling with their mental health. Work with the state legislators to fund more mental health clinics regarding residency in Nashville.

Work with the Davidson County School Board to help those children/families find housing placement for those who have struggled with the current economy.”

Fran Bush

“Increase affordable housing. A shortage of affordable housing is one of the main causes of homelessness. My plan would be to work to increase the supply of affordable housing by providing incentives for developers to build more affordable units, using government-owned land for affordable housing and increasing funding for affordable housing programs. Provide supportive services, many people experiencing homelessness have mental health or substance abuse issues that need to be addressed before we can successfully transition to permanent housing. We must provide supportive services such as counseling, job training, healthcare and education to help individuals get back on their feet. Also partner with non-profit organizations, those who are boots on the ground who are in the field for our homeless community to provide additional resources and support to those in need.”

Heidi Campbell

“The pandemic, paired with record low interest rates, created a wave of relocations, and drove housing prices further out of reach than ever for a lot of Nashvillians. Housing advocates estimate some 20,000 people in our city are currently without permanent shelter. The most immediate solution is housing, which is also one of our most basic human needs. It’s important to recognize that addressing homelessness in Nashville requires a multipronged approach, facilitated through partnership between metro government, nonprofits, faith-based groups, and healthcare providers. We need crisis response measures that avoid criminalization and forcible removal. We need to build on the work so many dedicated service providers and housing advocates are already doing, and address affordability and accessibility in Nashville overall.”

Bernie Cox

“The homeless community have very limited options due to limited resources. You would be surprised how many have fallen due to circumstances with little or no support . . . and no back door to re-enter society. I have spoken to many in the homeless community, and a desire to remove themselves from poverty is heard in most voices. They want to be treated with respect again, and the way to do that is by providing Homeless Community Centers to train and offer showers, clothing and education for those that WANT help. ‘GIVE a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. TEACH a man to fish . . . he’ll eat for a lifetime.’”

Jim Gingrich

“Nashville’s homelessness is a tragedy. Nashville is just getting to the point now where we’re starting to build permanent supportive housing in the city. We’re building 90 units, nearly $300,000 a unit. But we need several thousands of units. We could be doing many more things, like purchasing hotels and refurbishing them. We can do things at a third to a sixth of the cost of what we’re currently investing in our permanent housing, and that’s what we have to do to get thousands of units online quickly. The other tricky piece of this is the number of community partners that have to be coordinated to deliver supportive services. As mayor, I will appoint somebody to my office and use that office to both scale our plan and then coordinate it.”

Sharon Hurt

“The first thing is to make it a priority and be intentional about executing the plan that April Calvin and the Homelessness Commission have created. We will also work with the coalition of groups that serve the homeless population. Now, I believe to get to the fruit of the problem you have to get to the root of the problem. If we want to fix the homelessness issue, we have to make sure housing stays affordable for Nashville’s life-long residents.

Now, we won’t drive down Nashville rents overnight. So until that happens we need to have a housing-first approach to getting people off the streets. Homeless people need a base from which they can build the rest of their lives. Houston, Texas has been really hitting hard on this approach and they’ve more than halved their homeless population in the past decade. Most of the people who received this housing in Houston were able to independently house themselves after they ran out of government-supported housing. I have personally seen the efficacy of this approach as the Executive Director of Street Works, where we have run a similar program through the Metro Homelessness Commission’s How’s Nashville campaign. The housing first policy has been proven to get and keep people off the streets, and these are the policies I will continue to support as Mayor.”

Stephanie Johnson

“I am putting the responsibility to house our neighbors on the streets on the council members who serve them in those districts. I will be meeting with the metro council and implementing unhousing housing plan, focusing on the 8,000+ metro students without housing first. Identity low-income and affordable housing stock in each district (building a live site and emergency alarm (potentially into hub Nashville) for any district that moves below our marker of acceptable low-income and affordable housing stock. Each member will be tasked with meeting with their district neighbors about the housing plan we must implement in each district and receiving input about feelings of where they believe we can add more low-income and affordable housing and what it should look like. We will also have a 48-hour response time to help people off the streets. If I continue to see encampments in certain districts, I will personally sit with them and the nonprofit leaders in outreach to help them implement their plans of housing the unhoused.”

Freddie O’Connell

“When I drafted and passed legislation creating the Office of Homeless Services, it was an effort not only to bring this issue to the forefront of Metro’s work—and budget—but also an effort to consolidate a complex system of silos that hindered progress. In order to advance affordable options for residents, this work must continue, led by a recognized expert found through a national search. As mayor, I would ensure that our plans also include housing that provides supportive services, like mental health care, because some of our neighbors will never be able to consistently earn enough to be housed.

We must also maximize and multiply every dollar we put toward this issue. As Mayor, I would continue the work I led as chair of our Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) Oversight Committee to ensure our HMIS is one of the most effective in the country. Having worked on the Metro Homeless Impact Division’s three-year strategic community plan, I know it is also critical to reinvest in our Continuum of Care to increase our competitiveness to earn grants and federal funding. In recent years, one-time CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act federal funds provided MDHA and Metro the ability to offer rapid re-housing and emergency housing options to residents who needed them, and we must be prepared to access new funds when those programs expire.

But, there is an elephant in the room called the “benefits cliff.” I have heard from countless residents in MDHA housing that just when they achieve improvement in their lives, like a new job or a raise, they are faced with quickly increased rent or eviction. They receive help to a certain point of progress, and then instead of tapering off, assistance drops off completely, leaving folks dangling without a safety net. We need to be very careful that benefits cliffs, unreasonable zero-tolerance policies, and other strict guidelines aren’t creating homelessness, especially when people are making positive changes for their families—and I believe that we can find an innovative solution to creating a smooth transition to self-sufficiency that offers people economic mobility and housing stability.”

Alice Rolli

“Nashville recently allocated $50 million of federal COVID relief money to homelessness. That was more than any city in the country and should be applauded. I’d like to be sure that we are deploying those dollars in a way that creates the most housing options for our homeless neighbors. Taxpayers know that if government funds aren’t spent wisely and outcomes managed to ensure the greatest benefit, we end up in a situation where the public’s trust is eroded. Ensuring that those dollars are managed well to make the greatest impact is critical.”

Zerit Teklay

“When I think about the issue of homelessness in Nashville and whenever I visit Nashville Homelessness Shelter the Rescue mission and ask the NASHVILLIANS Real homeless why they become homeless, below are the reasons why NASHVILLIANS Homeless in Nashville become homeless:

  1. Job Loss (Unemployment). According to my research I conducted over the last 4 years by asking Homeless NASHVILLIANS, 99.9% are Jobless /Unemployed.
  2. Domestic Violence
  3. Mental ILLNESS: There is one and only one Solution for Mental ILLNESS and that is Natural Medicine, Support Structure and Balanced Nutrition. With the Collaboration of Government agencies, Non-Profit Organizations, businesses and the Community we live in, I have a Big Historic Project Planned out to Create A Natural Medicine Center In Nashville which will play a big role in the Mental Health Wellness of Mentally ILL Homeless NASHVILLIANS. If this Project of Natural Medicine Center becomes a reality in Nashville Tennessee, Many Mentally ILL Homeless NASHVILLIANS will be Naturally healed. Which means Homeless in Nashville due to Mental Illness will be Solved once and for all.
  4. Addiction of Drugs: Drug Addiction which is one of the causes why Some NASHVILLIANS become homeless is a problem which needs a Solution.
  5. Evictions due to high Rent Cost. New Construction of Increasing Affordable Housing is one Solution that will save Nashvillians from being Evicted due to high Cost of Rent.

If I get Elected, I will create A new System of developing New Affordable Housing which will not Discriminate based on Credit Score. I have 4 Sites of New Affordable homes Construction in East Nashville, West Nashville, South Nashville, and North Nashville.

Some Working Homeless NASHVILLIANS can not get a home to rent because 99.9% of home Rental Industry does not accept home rent applicant who have poor Credit Score.

Addressing the above 5 reasons of homeless in Nashville TN is the Solution for Homeless in Nashville. If I get Elected, in collaboration with Government agencies, businesses, non-profit organizations and our community, There will not be any homeless in Nashville ever again guaranteed.”

Vivian Wilhoite

“Solving homelessness in Nashville will require a multi-faceted approach that involves addressing the root causes of homelessness, providing supportive services, and creating affordable housing options. There is not a one size fits all solution. And the government cannot work alone in solving homelessness. We must work with the private sector, developers, nonprofits, and faith and community leaders. Here are some steps I will take:

  1. Address the root causes of homelessness: Many people become homeless due to factors such as poverty, mental health issues, substance abuse, domestic violence, and job loss. Addressing these underlying issues can help prevent homelessness. Programs that provide job training, mental health services, and addiction treatment can be helpful.
  2. Increase the availability of affordable housing: The lack of affordable housing is a significant contributor to homelessness. Increasing the availability of affordable housing through initiatives like low-income housing tax credits, inclusionary zoning, and other incentives for developers can help create more affordable housing options for people experiencing homelessness.
  3. Provide supportive services: Many people experiencing homelessness need access to supportive services, such as medical care, mental health services, and substance abuse treatment. Providing these services can help individuals get back on their feet and reduce the likelihood of future homelessness.
  4. Coordinate resources: Collaboration between local government, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations can help ensure that resources are being used efficiently and effectively. Coordinated entry systems can help streamline the process of connecting people experiencing homelessness with the services they need.
  5. Increase public awareness: Raising awareness about homelessness and its causes can help reduce the stigma associated with it and promote empathy and understanding. Educating the public about homelessness and advocating for policies and programs that address its root causes can help create a more supportive community for people experiencing homelessness.

Solving homelessness is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach. By addressing the root causes of homelessness, increasing the availability of affordable housing, providing supportive services, coordinating resources, and increasing public awareness, Nashville can take steps to reduce and eventually eliminate homelessness.”

Matt Wiltshire

“No person in our city should be without a safe place to stay. At its core housing insecurity is driven by affordability – and we have a lot of work to do in order to make housing more affordable in Nashville. This is an issue I’ve worked on extensively.

Beyond making housing more affordable in Nashville we must understand that each person experiencing housing insecurity is an individual and experiencing their own individual challenges. We must do a better job of coordinating services to ensure that folks are receiving the wrap-around care they need, such as: mental health care, combating domestic violence, addressing substance abuse, or finding a job.”

Jeff Yarbro

“Nashville’s not the first city to face rising homelessness, and we know what works and what doesn’t. Many cities focus on making homelessness less visible — running folks without homes in and out of county jails, overnight shelters, and emergency rooms; clearing one encampment only to see two more arise. That approach isn’t just expensive. It doesn’t work, and those cities continue to see rising homelessness year after year. Cities that have succeeded in dramatically reducing homelessness have instead focused on getting people housed. Nashville should adopt key Housing First strategies that have been proven to work. First, for the newly or temporarily homeless, we should adopt a Rapid Rehousing Initiative to connect individuals to permanent housing options through targeted interventions and time-limited financial assistance. The speed of this intervention is critical, because we know each night living on the streets increases the risk of untreated physical and mental health conditions, developing a criminal record, or suffering trauma in unsafe spaces — all of which make long-term homelessness more likely. Second, for those experiencing chronic homelessness, the city should invest in Permanent Supportive Housing. Decades of research shows we’re more likely to get people the help they need treating physical and mental health conditions, addressing substance use disorders, and getting back on their feet when we focus first on bringing stability to their lives through permanent housing.”

To read candidates’ answers to the other questions submitted addressing some of Music City’s biggest issues, click here.

The Metropolitan General Election takes place on August 3. A runoff will be held on September 14, if necessary.