Graphic by DeAnna Black / MTSU Sidelines
As the city of Murfreesboro continues to expand and evolve, officials say that unintended consequences come with the changing landscape. Namely, as the population of ‘boro dwellers grows, as does the homeless issue in the city.
Bill Kraus, the executive director of the Housing, Health and Human Services Alliance of Rutherford County, stated that there has been a notable increase in the homeless population in Murfreesboro within the last decade due to the city’s rapid expansion.
“If you have a city with 100,000 population, and then the city’s 160,000 population, you have a 60 percent increase,” Kraus said. “And with it, you’re going to have additional homeless, additional crime and additional negative statistics along with the positive statistics.”
The population of the city grew by 3.8 percent between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, according to 2018 U.S. Census data. Additionally, Murfreesboro was named the 10th-fastest-growing city in the country, according to a 2017 Census Bureau report.
Each year, Murfreesboro participates in an annual “Point-in-Time” count, which works to find an approximate number of homeless individuals in the city. Kraus said that, in the past five years, the count has hovered around 250 to over 300.
The issue is a tough one to tackle due to the fact that homelessness takes on a variety of forms and stems from a variety of issues: a bad divorce, mental health issues, a senior citizen without a safety net, a previously incarcerated individual having trouble re-entering society, etc.
“Federal government specifically says that about 17 percent of any given community anywhere in the united states can potentially be homeless, (either) because of the cost of housing or some of these other circumstances,” Kraus said.
“Last year’s housing costs, both acquisitions and rents, have gone up anywhere from 33 percent, which is a huge increase,” Kraus added.
A 2017 study from real-estate website Zillow showed that there was a strong correlation between rent increases and growing homeless populations in several cities experiencing a homeless crisis.
According to a study from RentCafe, an online real-estate service, 48 percent of current average rent prices in Murfreesboro reach over $1,000 per month and only 6 percent land between $500 and $700. Apartment listing company Apartment List found that Murfreesboro apartment rental prices increased by around 4.5 percent from last year.
Kraus said, in his opinion, the best way to push against the housing crisis for homeless individuals is to encourage the creation of subsidized housing that is in between what the user can afford and what the market conditions may be.
“Therefore, you have a quality house with the subsidy factory, that allows people to live in good housing, rather than ‘cheapie’ housing, and it probably develops a better community over a period of time,” Kraus said.
Kraus also stated that the city’s current strategy to deter homelessness is to provide “immediacy,” or immediate shelter and food for those who need rapid assistance. Once they have “immediate survival,” the city wishes to provide transitional housing in which the homeless individuals would be provided with job training, education and other resources. Kraus said that the city is looking to incorporate the Murfreesboro Rescue Mission, a newly established nonprofit, in the second portion of the plan. The Rescue Mission, which is headed by Nashville Rescue Mission veteran Ed Grimes, plans to build Murfreesboro’s first permanent homeless shelter within the next few years.
“For years, I could go around Murfreesboro, and I never could see (homeless individuals),” Grimes said. “But, the visual increase in homelessness has caused more people to see that there is a need in the city.”
Grimes decided that someone needed to fill this need and sought to bring a permanent facility to Murfreesboro, which currently is home to several organizations that provide temporary shelter to homeless individuals.
“If you don’t have a permanent structure, homelessness will grow,” Grimes said. “If there is no shelter, there is no ‘launching pad.’ You just continue to bounce from place to place … You’re in a viscous cycle … Having a shelter gives you a landing pad but also a place to launch.”
Amber Hampton, the director of the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, said that another important, yet often overlooked, method to deter homelessness in the city is more options for mental health services. The cold patrol is a nonprofit that works to provide emergency shelter and resources to homeless individuals during the coldest nights of the year.
“A lot of the people that we work with have experienced significant trauma, and that’s not an avenue that is super well looked at or very well researched in our city,” Hampton said.
Hampton referenced a study from the ‘90s, titled Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which showed that for every adverse childhood experience that one faces, their likelihood of health issues such as alcohol and drug abuse, cancer, heart disease and early death increases significantly.
“Most of our folks have a much higher rate of (adverse childhood experiences) than the rest of the population, which means that when they started off, they didn’t start off on the same footing as a lot of people,” Hampton said. “… In order to properly address what’s happening with a lot of people, you have to take into consideration that people are a culmination of everything that has happened to them leading up to this moment.”
Hampton said it’s not just a matter of making housing more affordable, but many other root causes of homelessness, namely chronic mental health issues, must be addressed.
“The city had a 10 year plan to end homelessness in the ‘90s, and here we are,” Hampton said “… If you’re just out there handing out food to everybody, you’re addressing the symptom and not the root cause.”
Hampton also cited the services of the Mental Health Cooperative, a clinic in Nashville.
“Instead of taking people to jail for public intoxication, they’re now able to drop them off at a crisis stabilization unit,” Hampton said. “Murfreesboro does not have a crisis stabilization unit, not for folks that are uninsured.”
Hampton said that if homeless individuals in Murfreesboro need detoxification services, they must fight to acquire a “grant bed,” which can take months.
“That’s a significant gap in the system,” Hampton said. “I worked with someone who was on a grant bed waiting list for two and a half weeks and sat under a bridge. He physically lost use of his legs, waiting there for so long. He looked at me and cried, saying, ‘I’m gonna die before the bed becomes available.’ Tennessee is working hard to fix that, but, man, we need more funding, particularly in Murfreesboro.”
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