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A Letter to Nashville

Nashville skyline photo


As I watched the waters rise in Nashville on March 28, I couldn’t help but remember the pictures I saw of the 2010 flood. I moved to Nashville in 2012, and Opry Mills had only just begun to reopen. That time was devastating for many people across our city, but particularly our homeless community, wiping out tent cities and sweeping away what little they had in the current. We’ve had over a decade to rebuild, but last weekend it was as if we’d gone back in time.

While the floodwaters didn’t quite reach the levels of May 2010, the effects were damaging, nonetheless. Two of our homeless friends were killed in the flooding, and many homeless people lost all their belongings -- even their pets. Many of our fellow Nashvillians have lost a great deal, from sentimental items to expensive music equipment to their actual homes. I am so grieved to see this magnitude of loss in the lives of people across the board, but it pains me specifically to see our homeless friends suffer.

As you can imagine, our homeless community is uniquely affected by severe weather like flooding. Any shelter they do have, like a tent, is not meant to withstand strong winds or rushing waters. But a shortage of affordable housing in Nashville has made it extremely difficult for people experiencing homelessness to acquire and maintain safe housing. Since 2011, average rent has increased by 64% while average wages have only increased by 14%. That means nearly half of Nashvillians are “cost-burdened” by housing. “Cost-burdened” means they have to spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing. With statistics like these, it’s extremely difficult for a person experiencing homelessness to transition out of it.

With limited options for shelter, many of our homeless friends have established a sense of home in camps around the city, several of which are near water like the Cumberland River or Seven Mile Creek in southeast Nashville. Tent villages like these not only create a “home base” for our friends, they also provide a sense of community and safety in numbers. Frederick Richards, aka “Mr Fred,” 64, was a veteran and a resident of an encampment by Seven Mile Creek -- dubbed “The Jungle” by the people who live there. “Mr. Fred,” and Melissa Conquest, 46, lost their lives in the recent flooding. In addition to seeing members of their community die tragically, our homeless friends lost their precious belongings and a place to call theirs. Camps like The Jungle became uninhabitable, and their residents were again displaced.

Nashville’s homeless community is made up of real people -- people who have likes, dislikes, family members, favorite foods, senses of humor and a life full of stories. If we take a moment to imagine what it would be like to experience the tragedy, monotony and hardship of homelessness every day, it’s not hard to understand how devastating the loss of personal items, supplies like camp stoves and tents, food and even your beloved dog would be.

We can’t forget our homeless friends in the midst of tragedy, especially when it disproportionately affects their lives. People experiencing homelessness don’t have insurance to help replace their belongings. They typically don’t have friends or families nearby with extra rooms or money for an extended stay hotel. And while Nashville Rescue Mission and other nonprofits are doing everything we can to help, it’s our job as a community to rally around our most vulnerable Nashvillians to show them we care and bring healing hope.

If you’d like to get more involved in helping our homeless friends recover from this tragedy, please visit or sign up to volunteer here.

Glenn signature

Glenn Cranfield, CEO of Nashville Rescue Mission

Nashville Rescue Mission