NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Metro Nashville leaders gave an up-close look at the day-to-day lives of people in one of the city’s homeless encampments. News 2 is not allowed to give the encampment’s location but it tells a story that’s all too familiar.
The location was wooded with tents and people’s belongings throughout.
“No matter where you go for me, I just keep getting thrown out like trash,” said a woman living in the encampment.
She did not want to be identified for safety reasons, but told News 2’s crew this has been her reality for a decade after she was hospitalized. “I was in the hospital for four and a half months in ICU and I got out and everything was gone. People and organizations say they’re going to help, but they don’t. They come in, and you never see them again.”
She said there doesn’t seem to be enough help for people like her but Lakisha Davenport said she knew first hand there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
“Severely abused, severely beaten and raped multiple times and homeless. I lived under North First bridge for two consecutive years running from a pimp,” said Davenport, who added she was trafficked across multiple states. “That’s why I’m where I’m at today, because I truly have a passion to help other people.”
Davenport is now a homeless outreach coordinator for the Metro Homeless Impact Division. “Help wasn’t there when I was experiencing homelessness. There’s a lot of outreach, there’s a lot of services now.”
Metro launched the welcome home housing surge in December, closing encampments at Brookmeade Park and Wentworth Caldwell Park with almost 140 people combined. They wrapped assessments this week and will review the threat level score from each encampment to select which ones will be in the next phase.
“This is an issue that’s impacting every council district. It’s not exclusive to one part of town or another. Really, it’s systematic, in addition to the visible camp closures. It really speaks to a bigger issue in Nashville that we’ve all been talking about, which is housing, housing options in our city, affordable housing, preventing evictions, and things like that so we don’t continue to have people that spiral into the condition where they’re living in an encampment,” said Metro Councilmember Erin Evans.
Evans said she believes this approach has been very positive for the city so far.
“Not everybody agrees with me, but my takeaway is that the approach is a positive one because it is addressing encampments that contain the most vulnerable people that may have other issues that are creating challenges in a community.
“Nashville we – just like the rest of the nation – we have an increased population of people experiencing homelessness,” said April Calvin, Metro Director of the Office of Homeless Services.
According to the Metro Homeless Impact Division, they’ve housed 135 people in the past six months. Most of those people remain in housing at 87% which is higher than the national average of 75%.
“Because we don’t have 130 immediately available in vacant units, the interim gap housing is the path that we chose,” said Calvin. “There’s two interim gap housing locations – a hotel conversion and then faith based community that’s converted some space.”
Calvin said a major priority is seeing which encampments need to be prioritized.
“Everyone living outside is a priority for my department. Because we have limited resources we rely on community partners,” said Calvin. “Our community partners are the ones that will identify the camps that should be prioritized and then we use an assessment tool to prioritize the top 3 to 5 that they choose.”
Calvin has a message for people who are frustrated about encampments in their neighborhood.
“Can you imagine the people living outside and the frustration level they have? Living outside in the elements, it’s hot, we’re all a little bit sweaty right now, we’re getting bitten by bugs back there,” she said. “Encampments are not safe. Encampments are difficult environments to live in and individuals are vulnerable while living there so for us we want to make sure there’s housing options and opportunities.”
Evans said, moving forward, “It’s really important that the city take more of a leadership role, and I think this is the signal that we are taking a leadership role. But at the same time, we have to make sure we’re doing it the right way and make sure that everybody from nonprofits to people with lived experience to providers so that everybody feels like they’re being included in the process. That’s something that we continually have to keep our eye on as we’re moving down this path.”