Guest Post: The Number of Davidson County Residents in Poverty Could Fill Bridgestone Arena 10 Times


By Renard Francois

Opening Remarks Of
Metropolitan Social Services Commission’s
Poverty In Nashville Seminar on May 3, 2013

  My name is Renard Francois, and I have the privilege of serving as a Commissioner of the Metropolitan Social Services Commission.  Before I begin I would like to ask the staff to stand and thank them for their hard work and dedication to the many issues that will be discussed in today’s seminar. They are truly selfless public servants. And, I would like to thank you for your dedication to these important issues and for taking time out of your busy lives and days to be part of this seminar.

In 2009, Metropolitan Social Services Planning & Coordination Division completed a series of Community Needs Evaluations. The community evaluation process is a data-based method of monitoring and reporting that involved the public and private sectors in ongoing community-wide efforts to identify and address the needs of low-income Davidson County residents.

The 2012 Community Needs Evaluation is MSS’s fourth annual report on poverty and community needs in

  • Food and Nutrition,

  • Health and Human Development,

  • Housing and Related Assistance,

  • Long-Term Supports and Services, and

  • Workforce and Economic Opportunity.

These Community Needs Evaluation reports give us an overview of the social service needs, the resources available to meet those needs and identify current and anticipated needs based on trends in the community. They show changes in the magnitude and patterns of poverty among diverse social and demographic groups. It is our hope that the information can be used to anticipate service needs and maximize the availability of social services among Nashvillians and is designed to guide policy makers, professional practitioners, advocates and philanthropists in their efforts to alleviate poverty.

In a time where we have witnessed incredible advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation, significant poverty persists.  In a city and county that has seen tremendous growth, publicity, and popularity, too many of our fellow citizens are trapped in poverty and cannot take advantage of those opportunities available in a city on the rise.

Although Davidson County has made strides, our poverty rate of 19.3% is higher than the poverty rate of the U.S. and the State of Tennessee. To put that in perspective, the number of Davidson County residents in poverty, about 117,000, could fill Bridgestone Arena to capacity about TEN TIMES.  And our younger citizens shoulder too much of the burden.  According to the Community Needs Evaluation, 30% of those residents in poverty are younger than 18. The number of Davidson County residents who are under 18 and trapped in poverty would fill up Bridgestone Arena twice. We know that growing up in poverty can harm a child’s well-being and development and limit their opportunities and academic success.

We have a great deal of work to do.

  • Out of 35 Metro Council districts, 22 have double digit poverty rates.

  • Of those 22 districts, 11 Metro Council districts have poverty rates above the Davidson County’s poverty rate of 19.3%.

  • And, 4 Metro Council districts have poverty rates above 30%.

  • Six Council Districts have poverty rates over 50% for those who are under age 18.

  • For households with a single female and children under 5, 17 Council districts have poverty rates of 50% or greater. Almost half of our Metro Council districts have single women with young children who are fighting poverty.

We have seen the vicious cycle poverty creates for these individuals; ranging from

  • Possible homelessness,

  • lower educational attainment,

  • higher unemployment (In Davidson County, from 2007-2011, the unemployment rate increased by 200% for those who didn’t graduate from high school),

  • decreased earnings,

  • health problems and

  • involvement in the criminal justice system.

Unabated, long-term poverty also adversely effects Davidson County. As we see increased costs through lost productivity and higher spending on health care and incarceration. This at a time when there are fewer government and non-profit resources available to meet the increased need.

  • According to The U.S. Conference of Mayors 2012 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness, Nashville saw requests for emergency food assistance increased 8% from the previous year. But, 30% of the overall requests for emergency food assistance went unmet. The report identified the primary causes for hunger in individuals and households with children are unemployment, high housing costs and substance abuse.

  • A Gallup poll conducted in January through June 2012 reported that Tennessee ranked 8th among states in which residents struggled to afford needed food items. In Tennessee, one-in-five persons are without enough money to afford food.

As a result, it is extremely important that we use the information in this report.

Unlike many businesses that conduct market research to better serve their customers and effectively and efficiently meet their needs, most non-profit and government service providers do not.  By providing current demographic, social and socioeconomic data about Davidson County, The Community Needs Evaluation can help non-profit and government service providers know more about their customers and begin to improve the service delivery system design and provide the services that will create meaningful change for our citizens in need.  It also recommends using evidence-based practices to promote the most effective and efficient models for providing social and human services in our community.

I was born and raised in Nashville, and have seen it change in many dramatic and wonderful ways. But, too many of our residents remain imprisoned in poverty. I hope that we can use the information this report and recommended practices to work together to overcome and eradicated poverty in Nashville.  Nelson Mandela once said “overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

You can find out more about Renard Francois here.