Mayor Philip N. Bredesen

Coordinated Strategy to Prevent Homelessness

Description of Program

The Voice of the Homeless survey is not a program, but is instead a vehicle that Nashville designed to get significant input from homeless people about their needs. This countywide survey is an exciting product of this year. s Continuum of Care process. With input from homeless people and providers, the Metropolitan Health Department designed and conducted a survey to find out how many homeless people need permanent housing, what they identify as their needs, and how well they feel their needs are being met. Forty-three volunteers from local agencies were trained, as well as several homeless men; they canvassed over 600 people homeless people at meal programs, shelters, transitional housing programs and outdoor areas such as park and campsites. Vendors in town donated hygiene items and snacks to give to the people who were surveyed.

When and Why Created

This survey was developed in early 1998, and conducted in April and May 1998. It has traditionally been a challenge to attract a varied, representative group of homeless and formerly homeless people to participate in the Continuum of Care process. In trying to assess the gaps that exist in Nashville, it became clear that if the homeless people weren. t going to come to us, we had to go to them. The Metropolitan Health Department has taken a significant step in this new direction. Although a great deal is known about the factors that seem to play a part in crossing the threshold from poverty into homelessness, very little research has been directed to assessing the needs for, and perceptions of, existing services from the very consumers for whom they are developed. Gaining the Nashville homeless consumer. s perspective will provide information to better understand awareness, utilization, barriers to access and factors that may pertain to the identification of needs that may require the development of additional services. A keener sense of service needs through the "eyes of the consumer" may provide direction upon policy development and practice procedures. A copy of the results of the survey is attached.

Measurement of Effectiveness

The survey process and the data that was collected was presented at the September Continuum of Care meeting. Providers and formerly homeless people in attendance were asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the process, and to note suggestions for improvements, as well as specific information that can be fleshed out of the data, and additional questions that can be added in future surveys.

Financing of Program

Interviewers who were service providers gave their time to the project. Homeless men who worked as interviewers were paid a modest stipend, which came from the Campus for Human Development, a nonprofit agency with strong links to the Health Department. The cost of staff time to design the survey and compile and evaluate the results was borne by the Health Department.

Linkage to City government

The Metropolitan Health Department designed the survey and compiled the data. The Homeless Coordinator at the city. s public housing agency convened providers to hone the survey instrument and corral the interviewers. However, staff emphasize that the survey "belongs" to the community of providers and homeless people who comprise the group that meets monthly to address gaps in the system of services in Nashville.

Major Lessons Learned

Coordinating and finding enough volunteers to conduct the surveys turned out to be more difficult than expected. The interviews might be conducted more quickly and efficiently if we paid the interviewers and tightened the time frame in which to conduct the survey. What was hoped to be a two-week period of interviews turned into two months. Our mission was twofold: attempt to gather up-to-date, point-in-time information on the unduplicated number of people who are homeless in Nashville; and assess the needs of homeless people from their eyes. We were very successful at the latter goal. A number of factors prevented us from gaining a clear view of the actual number of people homeless at a point in time.

Contact Person: Suzie Tolmie Homeless Coordinator, Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency  P.O. Box 846, Nashville, Tennessee 37202 Telephone/Fax:615/252-8574 Fax 615/252-3677

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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