Earlier this month, Metro awarded a total of $6.8 million in federal funds to five lead nonprofit organizations to provide a variety of different support services for individuals experiencing homelessness. In April, Metro also entered into a contract with Neighborhood Health for close to $2 million for health services.
All six grants add up to just under $9 million that Metro set aside in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding last October to provide support services dollars as part of a $50 million ARP allocation.
Here is a quick reminder of the overall allocation plan for the original $50 million in federal ARP funds:
Of those $50 million:
- $25 million were allocated to provide low-cost loans to developers to create deeply affordable housing units for households with an income of 0-30% of the Area Median Income (AMI);
- $9 million to build capacity in Housing First case management services, including establishing Assertive Community Treatment teams;
- $9 million for temporary interim gap housing for households waiting for housing units and/or permanent housing subsidies; and
- $7 million to fund Metro’s Low Barrier Housing Collective landlord engagement and incentive program ($3 million*) as well as competitive grants for support services ($4 million).
Now, let’s take a closer look at the $9 million support services contracts. The contracts do not outline how the different grant awards will create a collaborative service model amongst the providers. But it will likely be the responsibility of the new Office of Homeless Services, which essentially will move the Metro Homeless Impact Division staff directly under the Mayor’s Office on July 1 per Metro, to ensure that the implementation is seamless and coordinated.
The following array of services will be provided by five local lead agencies (for a different presentation, review our summary in the chart):
- Park Center will expand its SOAR program. SOAR stands for SSI/SSDI, Outreach, Access and Recovery and links people experiencing homelessness and with social security or disability benefits.
- Colby’s Army as well as Step Up on Second Street will hire certified peer specialists for street outreach (Colby’s Army) and case management services (Step Up).
- “Step Up will use an Intensive Case Management (ICM)-like model to provide an array of services and support to members in housing stability. The interventions will include identifying service needs; referring and linking to services and resources identified through the service planning process; coordinating services to maximize service integration and minimize service gaps; ensuring continued adequacy of individualized recovery plans to meet ongoing and changing needs and developing natural supports to promote community integration. Services will consist of four major components that impact one’s overall wellness, including behavioral, medical, social, educational, vocational, housing, financial and other individualized needs: 1) Engagement & Needs identification, 2) Care Coordination, 3) Referral & Linkage and 4) Monitoring & Follow-up.” I copied and pasted this paragraph from RS2023-2213 that lists all five contracts. This particular contract also lists performance indicators to evaluate program effectiveness.
- Mending Hearts Inc., “will use the funds to provide identify, engage, and support adults within a housing first model in accessing and engaging with the recovery and support services needed to successfully maintain housing and transition to health and wellness; and solidify and augment the system of care for adults experiencing chronic homelessness to ensure that the mental health, substance use, and recovery support service systems are specifically supportive and aligned with the housing first model, to ensure that individuals are appropriately served with the resources they need during these challenging transitions through the training, implementation and support of evidence-based practices aligned with this approach.”
- Room In The Inn will provide up to 75 nutritious meals per day for people in interim housing.
These five contracts add up to $6,817,680. Most of the remaining amount, $1,961,515 to be exact, was approved for a contract between Metro Social Services and Neighborhood Health to provide medical and pharmaceutical services “in encampment-based settings and Rapid Re-Housing locations.” This contract (unlike the five others) is well-developed, clear, and specific in its scope of work.
Overall, Metro has so far awarded the $9 million in support services dollars, and $9 million in “temporary interim gap housing,” which largely went to The Salvation Army and Community Care Fellowship. Only the five contracts awarded in June went through an RFP process. The remaining contracts were sole sources. Metro has made clear that they were not legally required to use an RFP process to allocate the $6.8 million in support services, but chose to do so.
On that note, that RFP process was delayed (based on a timeline that the Mayor’s Office presented to Metro Council in September), convoluted and non-transparent. At least two providers told me Metro representatives informed them in January they would not qualify to apply on their own. Rather, they would need to be subcontracting and partnering with an organization that is a “Licensed TennCare nonprofit healthcare” provider as outlined in the RFP, which in itself did not use clear language. However, it turns out that some of the current contractors that received awards do not meet that requirement. Thus, these two nonprofits potentially may have missed the opportunity for funding based on bad information provided by Metro leaders.
Let me be clear, I support all these nonprofits and am happy they received much-needed funding to do their work. I actively supported the approval of the $50 million and helped Metro draft a small portion of the original proposal as presented to the Metro Council. However, as I keep repeating in my writings and public statements, Nashville needs to implement a Housing First plan, not an encampment closure plan as driven by the current administration. And I am not talking about a housing-only plan because a true Housing First approach includes wraparound support services that are now finally in place through these grants.
With elections in August, the next Mayor will have a chance to bring transparency to how millions of dollars are spent to house some of Nashville’s most vulnerable neighbors and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. I don’t believe a new Mayor will be able to completely move away from an encampment-focused approach. The reason is that encampment closures have become a highly publicized and politicized approach to homelessness in Nashville. If a new Mayor wants to show results on reducing homelessness, including street homelessness, he or she still has a chance to work with the new Office of Homeless Services and the community to implement a solid, solutions-focused housing plan.
My hope is that with these new contracts in place, our city will finally move toward a housing-focused approach that prioritizes people’s needs over political wish lists over whose district will be rid of another encampment (with little attention to whether people are actually moving into permanent housing as promised by the current city leaders). Encampment closures only work if we actually have a path to move people into permanent housing coupled with the needed supports within a timely manner. In Nashville, the goal should be 90 days. The current administration lengthened that goal to 120 days, clearly realizing that we just do not have the capacity in place yet to house people quickly enough.
It was actually the Metro Council that started to put accountability measures in place (as a matter of fact it was some of the very politicians who have been bamboozled into believing that this administration’s current encampment approach is following best practices).
When adopting Resolution 2022-1697, which was approving the use of $9 million for support services, Metro Council added an amendment that requires that Metro Social Services provide monthly reports outlining:
- The number of people served by this program;
- The demographics of the individuals served;
- The average length of time the individuals have been in housing;
- Income and non-cash benefits;
- Types of services provided;
- Number and percent of individuals who returned to homelessness;
- The number assessed, applied, and awarded as able to obtain SSI or disability; and
- The percentage remaining housed.
Furthermore, the resolution includes a target estimate of about 500 households that should be served with these funds by December 2025.
This is a good start. I have hope that a new administration will see through the current chaotic approach, move away from political band aids, have honest conversations within Metro and especially with neighborhoods, and move forward with implementing proven solutions.
Editor’s note: In a previous column about Rapid Rehousing, this column stated that Metro set aside $4 million for landlord engagement. The correct number is $3 million. We regret this error.