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VOL. 37 | NO. 39 | Friday, September 27, 2013

Nashville group takes aim at chronic homelessness

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NASHVILLE (AP) - After years of talking about ending homelessness, a Nashville-area commission is now starting to do more about it.

With a new director and the help of a national nonprofit called 100,000 Homes, Nashville's Metropolitan Homelessness Commission has taken on the ambitious goal of housing 200 people in 100 days.

On Thursday, Director Will Connelly announced that 189 people had moved into their own apartments during the 100-day period, tripling the commission's previous rate of housing placement. Another 40 people have received Section 8 housing vouchers and are currently looking for homes.

The announcement came during a "Welcome Home" party for the newly housed at an East Nashville community center.

Connelly said the housing blitz, called How's Nashville, has shown what the commission and all of its partners can do, but they have a lot of work ahead of them to meet a larger goal of ending chronic homelessness in Nas hville in four years.

Connelly said in an interview that they were able to increase the number of people moving into apartments by utilizing every available resource. That included convincing some big property management companies to set aside units at a greatly reduced rent. And the commission worked with the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency on a pilot project to set aside 18 Section 8 housing vouchers each month for the chronically homeless.

One of the people to receive a voucher was Reginald Watson. Speaking after the party on Thursday, he said he became homeless because he got caught up in drugs and gang activity, but various social workers and ministries helped him get back on the right path.

"People that cared about me showed me I was much better than what I was doing," he said.

Watson and fiancee Michelle Goodner have been in an apartment for about three weeks now, they said.

"I cried when they told us we could move in," Goodner said. "I cried like a newborn baby."

Also at the party were Roger McGue and his stepmother Debrae Drew. They wound up living in a tent last year after McGue's father died, leaving them with a huge medical bill they couldn't pay.

McGue said he promised his father before he died that he would take care of Drew. But he has had trouble keeping a job because of mental health problems, he said. Now McGue and Drew have a two-bedroom apartment, thanks to the commission.

"Man, it's nice," McGue said, with Drew nodding in agreement.

"It's all redone inside," she said. "And it has central air."

Connelly said everyone getting a home is also receiving support services, but the commission does not require people to jump through a lot of hoops before it will help them. He said it is easier for people to deal with their problems, like drug abuse or mental health issues, when they are in stable housing.

The commission is also becoming more data-driven - wo rking with other nonprofits to prioritize the most vulnerable people and track outcomes.

Jeannie LeFevre is one of the landlords who is helping the commission by providing needed Section 8 housing.

She said she bought an apartment building in Nashville a few years ago after she felt that God was leading her to help homeless families. She spent all of her savings rehabilitating the building and nearly wound up on the streets herself.

Although her financial situation is still precarious, she started crying with joy when talking about how much it has meant to her to help give people a decent home.

"It's been tough, but it's good," she said. "I would encourage other landlords to give, because there's nothing like giving. There's nothing like giving. It reaches the soul."