Metro leaders cancel parts of homeless count because of COVID-19

Posted at 10:27 AM, Jan 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-21 11:27:56-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nashville will not be performing parts of its annual count of people experiencing homelessness this year because of concerns about spreading the coronavirus.

Every January, cities across the country are required to do a "point in time" count, an effort that aims to estimate the number of people sleeping in shelters and on the streets. In Nashville, the effort takes a large team of volunteers canvassing areas across the Metro.

"Counting everyone in Davidson County who is sleeping on the street is a massive endeavor," Lindsey Krinks said. Krinks works with Open Table Nashville, an organizations that helps fight homelessness across the area. The group also helps with Metro's annual "point in time" count.

The federally mandated effort was supposed to happen Thursday night, but Metro leaders emailed federal officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, asking to cancel parts of the count. The email cites Tennessee's high COVID-19 spread rate and low ICU availability, among other things. This year, the count will only include people staying at shelters, shutting out people sleeping on the street.

"I absolutely think it was the right decision to cancel it this year, just to protect everybody's safety," Krinks said.

Still, Krinks said the cancellation comes at a critical time.

"It's a pretty dire situation for our friends that are experiencing homelessness, with the housing crisis layered with the economic crisis and pandemic," she said.

Homeless community advocates say even in a normal year, the count leaves tens of thousands of people out.

"It really doesn't capture all the people who are sleeping in hotels or motels or doubling up on couches or things like that," Krinks said. Open Table Nashville estimates the "point in time" count only counts about 10% to 15% of the people in Nashville experiencing homelessness. This year, that percentage will be even lower.

"We know that the shelters numbers are going to be down this year. Less people are staying in shelters and more people are staying in the streets."

Krinks said that could impact how much federal money Metro receives and will make efforts to help Nashville's growing homeless populations more difficult.

"This will set us back," Krinks said. "The people that are suffering in the shadows of our city need to be seen and their stories need to be told, and without the unsheltered point in time count we have one less tool to do that."