NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Mayor John Cooper is promising major changes in the way Nashville fights homelessness.
It follows the release of a report that criticized Metro's current approach and called it "outdated."
City leaders asked for the report late last year as concern grew about homelessness in Nashville.
The report, which is titled "Nashville Performance Study of Homelessness and Affordable Housing," found Nashville has high barriers to housing.
It makes several recommendations including that Nashville create a stand-alone department called the Office of Homeless Services.
NewsChannel 5 spoke exclusively with Mayor Cooper about the report and his plans going forward.
"The report calls out Nashville, as it should, that we have not been that effective on our chronic homeless population," Mayor Cooper said.
The chronic homeless population represents people who have been without housing for extended periods of time.
The report found people are staying homeless longer and the number of people living outside, in unsafe conditions, has doubled since 2013.
"We do not have the same level of problem that other cities do, particularly on the West Coast. But is it a problem? Absolutely. Has it gone unaddressed for too long? Absolutely." Mayor Cooper said.
The report found 1900 homeless people but said Metro must focus on the "nearly 500 chronically homeless people in the Metro area" who have been homeless more than a year.
Major Ethan Frizzell with the Salvation Army agreed it's time for Nashville to change its approach.
"We know that 500 is too large of a portion, which means the system now is not acting as it should, because there shouldn't be 500 out of 1900. It should be 5% of the population," Frizzell said.
The report said there is no "strategic targeting toward long-term homelessness."
It said there are currently "high barriers to housing such as sobriety or unemployment" which often exclude the long-term homeless who need the most help.
"Everyone should be in the system who wants assistance. They should then be prioritized, and the greatest resources moved to those with the greatest need," Frizzell said.
In addition to creating the stand-alone department called the Office of Homeless Services, the report recommends that Nashville adopt a "housing first model."
It is an approach that puts those with the most severe mental and physical needs at the top of the list for housing.
The report said Nashville's current system is outdated because it is essentially given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, and it penalizes those chronically homeless, which keeps them on the streets longer.
The report recommends a major reorganization of the city's Homeless Planning Council - saying it is too big and needs restructuring.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the mayor, "will you implement everything this report recommends?"
"We will try to implement everything in the report. Certainly, the big things. We want a full-time director. We want a professional staff and we want the $50 million budget," Mayor Cooper said.
The money for the new department would come from the federal government.
When asked why he's focused on this issue now, Mayor Cooper blamed COVID for slowing down the city's response to this long-time problem.
He also said the city is now on a strong enough financial footing to tackle this problem.
Metro Councilman Freddie O'Connell, who is running for mayor, criticized Cooper for being slow to respond.
O'Connell said in a text, "Last year was the deadliest year on record for homeless people."
He said a permanent supportive housing project was delayed by Mayor Cooper for "two and a half years."
O'Connell said the project was already funded, but the groundbreaking is happening next week.
He said that delay is on Mayor Cooper, not COVID.