By Hannah Herner
The Continuum of Care Homeless Planning Council is asking Metro why they weren’t consulted in the city’s plans to address COVID-19 within the community they serve.
The 25 member council serves as the governance board for a collective of organizations in Nashville that serve people experiencing homelessness — they sent a letter and a list of seven recommendations to the Mayor’s Office on May 27. A special task group was created during a Homeless Planning Council meeting on May 13 to put together this communication. At Metro’s urging to only meet for “essential business,” the council had not met since the stay-at-home order began in Nashville in March.
The first recommendation in the letter, which was obtained by The Contributor, is to include a member of the Homeless Planning Council, a member of Metro Social Services Homeless Impact Division and a person who has been homeless to be in on all discussions around the Fairgrounds emergency shelter and Metro’s response to COVID-19 related to people experiencing homelessness.
At the beginning of May, there was an outbreak of the virus at the fairgrounds shelter and others in the city.
“We heard about the creation of a shelter at the Nashville Fairgrounds to address social distancing issues at the Nashville Rescue Mission, and then about the unfortunate, but not surprising, reports that people sheltering at both places had tested positive for COVID-19,” the letter, signed by Homeless Planning Council chair Paula Foster, reads. “As these events unfolded, advocates who work tirelessly with people experiencing homelessness in Nashville were voicing concerns about our city's approach to COVID-19 prevention and care among this vulnerable population. In hindsight, their warnings should have prompted the HPC to ask questions and offer our expertise to the Mayor's Office, the Office of Emergency Management, and others involved in formulating Metro's COVID-19 shelter and quarantine response.”
The Continuum of Care and its Homeless Planning Council was created in compliance with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, while the Homeless Impact Division serves within the Nashville local government Department of Social Services.
Four recommendations fall under “housing and services,” recommending a non-congregate shelter like hotel or dorm rooms for people who do not have a place to live during the COVID-19 outbreak. This section also recommends use of FEMA and CARES Act dollars as well as leveraging outreach workers to get resources to people experiencing homelessness.
The last two recommendations seek to prevent criminal arrest and engage communities of color in addressing racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths. On May 7, a man staying at the Fairgrounds Nashville emergency shelter was arrested after fleeing quarantine.
“This arrest led to mistrust among our homeless neighbors and set back willingness to participate in testing,” the letter reads.
The council looks for a response from the Mayor’s Office by June 1.
“We urge the city to work with us so that we can do even better moving forward,” the letter reads.
We have reached out to Mayor Cooper’s office for comment.