Nashville remembers 128 people who died experiencing homelessness in 2020

Posted at 4:31 PM, Dec 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 09:34:10-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Around this time every year, Nashville observes Homeless Memorial Day. Between the pandemic and tornado, organizers read off the longest list of names in city history.

"It’s awful that 30 years later, we’re still having to remember people who died without homes," said Bobby Watts, the CEO of National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

In all -- 128 names were read. For a few, community leaders read anecdotes about the person we lost. "Michael Baety Senior -- 43 -- Father of four who loved snake cakes and the Dallas Cowboys," said Paula Foster, the Executive Director of Open Table Nashville.

Foster tells NewsChannel 5 that the pandemic has made the hard task of housing the homeless, nearly impossible. "We have teams out trying to get people into the shelters when we can, but people are scared of the shelters, people are scared of COVID and it’s been incredibly difficult," she said.

Foster is now concerned this record death rate among people experiencing homelessness is a sign of what's to come. "Come January when the moratorium on evictions - which is not really real - actually expires we don’t know how many people are going to end up on the streets. People who have never been on the street before," said Foster.

She's calling on city leaders to make a real investment in the fight against homelessness. "We need as a city to commit to finding appropriate housing for folks who don’t have it," she said.

Foster says it will take an emotional investment too. Emblematic of that, the smaller, socially distant crowd took flowers and tossed them into the Cumberland River. Foster says that demonstrates whether we knew them or not, they mattered and will be missed.

"If we don’t remember them, we forget. And if we forget, we don’t help," said Foster.

If you'd like to watch the full ceremony, click here: