From Bill Freeman

I was pleased the Cooper administration responded promptly to the challenges facing homeless individuals and the pressing need to fully fund Metro’s emergency shelter and cold-weather responses.

The events of that response made me proud to be a Nashvillian, and a part of the Nashville Scene.

The Scene did what the press should do — alerted us that Metro had not committed to opening cold-weather emergency shelters as it has in past years, citing lack of funding. Metro emergency shelters open when the temperature drops below 28 degrees, when the risk of hypothermia is very high. I am proud that the Scene’s journalists were the ones who had their ears to the ground covering this important and often overlooked responsibility that we expect our government to fulfill. It is a core reason the Scene is here: reporting on issues that Nashvillians need to know about as we go about our daily lives. 

And once it was in the news, the prompt reaction from our Metro government and from the newly established Cooper administration was heartening.

From the news accounts, the Cooper administration says it had not expressly decided to close Metro’s emergency shelters, which served about 2,200 people in the winter of 2018. But the new administration also had not communicated clearly to the nonprofits who take care of our homeless neighbors, leaving those essential service providers scrambling for a solution.

I enjoyed reading this example of how important the relationship between the press, its readers and local government remains in the age of so-called fragmented media.

Even One Is Too Many

We clearly have issues to address when it comes to helping homeless individuals in our city. At last count, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Nashville was tallied at 2,298. That number is the annual Point in Time (PIT) measurement, which uses a single count on a single night at the end of January each year as the estimated figure of a particular city’s homeless population. Last year’s number was down slightly from 2017’s count of 2,337 people, but a single count on a single night is a challenging method of accurately identifying the number of homeless individuals who reside in a city. No matter how a count is taken, even one homeless person is too many.

Nashville is home to many outreach groups and faith-based organizations that have nobly served populations in need for many years. Metro Nashville has also coalesced its assistance in recent years to form a new governance structure to better address our rising homelessness crisis. The newly formed Continuum of Care Homelessness Planning Council handles the bulk of Metro’s efforts to assist, prevent and reduce the problems associated with homelessness. They work in concert with local agencies and nonprofit organizations to coordinate, as best as possible, Metro’s efforts to address homelessness. 

The new structure is outlined in the Strategic Community Plan, which was finalized and released in July. This plan identifies specific and major goals over the next three years, including an increase in accurate data collection, an overall decrease in our homeless population by 25 percent, and an increase in affordable housing.

These are all steps in the right direction. We need to continue and increase our current efforts. We need to take better care of each other. I am pleased to see that our city and our elected officials agree. I am also reminded of a poem, the authorship of which has never been fully confirmed. I include it for your reflection. 

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.

I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy, so close to God.

But I’m still very hungry and lonely and cold.

Bill Freeman

Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County. 

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