Open Table Nashville: The Promise of Home
One of the goals set early in place at the inception "Live Laugh Love Nashville" was to give back to the community. To not only showcase amazing things Nashville has to offer, but to bring awareness to the needs of our city and surrounding areas.
Tiffany, the founder of "Live Laugh Love Nashville" also owns her own marketing firm and generally spends her weekend evenings doing promotions for various venues downtown. A couple of weeks ago, she was talking to a couple and in what can only be described as an alignment of the stars, she witnessed an extraordinary act of kindness, giving a glimmer of hope to two people.
Here’s her story:
Note: Names and minor details have been changed for anonymity of the couple and clarity.
“Tonight while I working outside, I saw a homeless couple I know. I see them every weekend. I had these things with me that stick to your body and heat up, so I gave those to them. I politely asked Joe why they didn't go to the shelter. He said because they would be separated, and Sarah needs him. A few minutes later, a person doing outreach for a non-profit came along and took them in; I told them thank you. The man, Joe, is such a good person. It hit me then; we need another monthly feature."
The volunteer Tiffany met that night, who graciously took Joe and Sarah somewhere safe and out of the elements works for Open Table Nashville.
Open Table Nashville is a non-profit advocacy group in Nashville working diligently on three key items:
Educating on the issues of homelessness
Disrupting the cycle of homelessness
Making connections to those experiencing homelessness
According to data compiled by Open Table Nashville, over 20,000 thousand people were experiencing homelessness in Nashville in 2016*. Of that number, 8,000 are children. For a visual of what those numbers represent, every seat in Bridgestone Arena could be filled with individuals in need of permanent housing. Advocates estimate the true number is higher and growing.
While working through their outreach, Open Table does not discriminate based on circumstances. They recognize the importance of keeping families together, including pets. Relationships are key. They work tirelessly to make connections with the appropriate parties based on the need of the individuals.
Homelessness starts with trauma
I met with Liz Shadbolt, Volunteer Coordinator for Open Table Nashville. "Homeless starts with a trauma," she told me. Something significant has happened for a person to lose their home; sometimes multiple traumas. Incredibly, while it is often thought addiction is the major force, it is last on the list of triggers causing homelessness.
In Nashville, the largest population of homeless people are homeless for one simple reason: Lack of affordable housing.
Affordable housing is defined by rent costing no more than 30% of the household income; however, the target rate in an area is determined on the average of salaries of teachers, firemen, policemen, and so on. To anyone below that salary range, there is a budgetary deficit from the start. With the rent increase in 2017, the average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in Nashville went to $1,100/mo. A person working full-time, earning the minimum wage is bringing home a gross of $1,160/mo. How can the cost of living increase but wages stay the same without consequence?
With more people in the home, obviously the cost of living goes up. Suppose two adults are working full-time, minimum wage jobs, and live in a one-bedroom apartment. The gross pay per month has increased to $2,320. Now 47% of their salary is dedicated to only rent. Even before taxes and insurance are deducted, these two people are now considered "cost burdened."
Breaking the cycle
With the explosion of growth currently in progress in and surrounding Nashville, spaces that were once affordable are either priced out, or have been torn down to build new sports venues, hotels, and retail spaces. "In 2000, Nashville had an estimated 2,000-unit surplus of affordable housing rental housing. By 2015 that surplus had become a deficit of 18,000 units. This means that by 2025, Nashville could need to create as many as 31,000 affordable rental units (Housing Nashville: Housing Report from the Office of Mayor Megan Barry, 2017).
Startling fact: Most agencies are unable to help someone until they've been homeless one year. People more often than not have no choice but to become homeless in order to eventually qualify for needed services.
So, long story short, if the total household income is not enough to cover the bare basics: rent, government-required health insurance, utilities, transportation costs, and food, how does one avoid homelessness? What happens when a medical issue arises? Car maintenance or repair? Clothing and self-care? And so becomes the cycle. Without assistance or intervention, it is near impossible claw-up from rock bottom.
Relationships: Bridging the Gap It would be impossible to list everything OTN does on a daily basis. From outreach, matching and contacting various agencies, education, case management...they are making relationships and make the differences where they are needed. It can be as simple as assisting on filling out paperwork to as complicated as you can imagine. Everyone who chooses to do so are given the attention needed without prejudice or impossible stipulations.
Currently in progress is the building of a community of micro homes. This project will "provide a dignified, loving, and hospitable bridge housing community for Nashville’s unhoused!" Read about this incredible development and visit the virtual walk-through here.
Together we can make a difference
It is heartbreaking to know a large percent of the homeless population in Nashville truly want to get out of their current situation and get back to a typical life, but are unable to do so unassisted. We need to break the stereotype that all homeless people are lazy, addicts, or otherwise unfit for care, compassion, and understanding.
Awareness is paramount to the work Open Table Nashville is doing. The homeless population in Nashville are part of our community. When we put away prejudice, open our hearts and minds, we are acknowledging they are seen. We know they are facing challenges; let them know you want to help. It is easy to hand out a bottle of water, a granola bar, or look someone in the eye and say, "How can I help today?" Something as simple as handing out heating packs like Tiffany did, or sitting and having a conversation can make a difference in someone's day and potentially create the trust so the next step can be taken.
OTN welcomes and accepts help from the community in a variety of ways: Advocacy Writing letters. Education. Research. Asking questions. We need more affordable housing that covers a greater demographic. We need assistance to be available that is fair and appropriate. Volunteering A variety tasks are available to fit your schedule. Any and all help is appreciated. On-going financial support Visit 'Give' on the Open Table website for specifics. Any and all monetary donations make a difference. In-Kind Donations The need for new or gently-used household goods, personal hygiene, food and more are accepted on a schedule based on the season and current need. For complete details on the work that Open Table Nashville does and to keep up-to-date, be sure to bookmark their website and check back often.
The bottom line
Nothing is black and white. At the end of the day, the main take-away is the deep need we have right here, in our backyard. No one deserves to be turned away based solely on circumstance. Open Table Nashville formed in 2008 to help the largest homeless community in the city. Housed on the banks of Cumberland, it was destroyed in the May 2010 flood. Since then, advocacy for the homeless increased exponentially and continues. (Read their entire background story, some of which is depicted in the documentary Tent City, USA. As of this writing, the documentary is only available through the OWN network or DVD which can be found on Amazon.)
I would like to extend a very special thank you to Liz Shadbolt for answering my many emails and our meeting to talk in-person. We are proud to have discovered Open Table Nashville, our very first non-profit feature. If at least one person is helped, it is a step in the right direction.
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Written by Heather Clift