The view looks pretty good from Roger Webster’s balcony. His new apartment at Madison Towers is a breath of fresh air and a blessing.
“I said, ‘Lord, thank you!’ I can’t do nothing better than move to a better place that I can have my own kitchen, my own bathroom, my own bedroom and my own living room,” Webster said.
Webster moved to Nashville from Columbia several years ago in search of new opportunities.
He got a job as a cook at Belmont University but struggled to find housing. Webster was staying at the Nashville Rescue Mission, and some nights, even sleeping on the street.
“I said, ‘I can’t do this no more; I need a place of my own,'” Webster recalled.
He took the initiative to get a case manager and social worker, who helped him get a place of his own, but he lived at two properties where he didn’t feel comfortable being long-term.
“People was up there doing drugs, and I don’t deal with no drugs at all,” Webster said.
Then he got the call that an apartment had opened up at Madison Towers, Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency property.
“I jumped up for joy,” Webster said. “I’m happy and everything. I’m in a better place. I have a kitchen, cook my own food, relax, watch TV, have some friends come over who might want to watch the football game.”
“People without housing, it’s a housing status. They are already in our neighborhood,” said Judith Tackett, Director of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission. “Let’s stop talking about how we can push them out; let’s look at how we can integrate them and their strengths. I hate to even say them versus us; it’s all of us.”
The Metropolitan Homelessness Commission launched the “How’s Nashville?” campaign in 2013 with a mission to get more people in housing and keep them there via access to services.
“In 2017, on average, our community providers have housed 117 individuals a month,” Tackett said.
The latest initiative that started in October is the “Drive to End Homelessness.” It provides housing navigation services and bus passes in partnership with the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority. The average time for someone who receives a bus pass to being placed in housing is just 69 days.
“Frankly, it was way faster than I would have thought,” Tackett said. “It also shows how transit relates to housing and accessing services.”
The commission also has new a homeless outreach team that coordinates with service providers to get people help quickly.
No surprise, Tackett said more funding is needed, not just government dollars, but from private businesses that will invest in affordable housing.
Webster said he is forever grateful for those who invested their time in him.
“For people out there, I hope y’all get a case worker to help y’all find a place to live. You put God first and He will work with you to help get that done,” Webster said.
One of the toughest parts about solving Nashville’s homeless issue, Tackett said, is the city doesn’t know exactly how many people are experiencing homelessness.
The point-in-time count is only a rough estimate of people in shelters and on the street on one given night. It doesn’t include people in motels, cars or other places that are not a home.
Since the point-in-time figure has hovered at 2,300 year after year, Tackett said that shows more must be done to lower that number.
Tackett said another new step forward is eliminating Nashville’s dual homeless government system. There’s currently the Metro Homelessness Commission and a Continuum of Care Governance Board through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
There’s a proposed ordinance being considered by Metro Council to instead create one unified board. It passed its first reading and will be up for a second reading on June 19.