NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - News4 Investigates discovered that taxpayers have spent more than $2.5 million so far housing the homeless at The Fairground Nashville’s new expo buildings.
The expo buildings were turned into a homeless shelter in March, the city saying at the time they wanted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the homeless community.
News4 Investigates found that since March, taxpayers have paid more than $2.5 million, including:
- $34,000 for fencing
- $214,000 payments to a private security firm
- $774,110 payment to catering company with Fairgrounds contract to provide three meals a day
- $1.1 million to private companies for contracted medical staff
“I wish I could give you an answer. There is nothing that is logical or that makes sense to the taxpayers of Nashville, nothing about this,” Glover said after the numbers were shared with him by News4.
Meanwhile, The Fairgrounds Nashville has lost $679,000 so far this fiscal year because the expo center has not been available for other uses like the Nashville Flea Market.
The losses will continue to add up.
In an internal memo, The Fairgrounds Nashville Executive Director Laura Womack wrote to flea market vendors. She predicted there won’t be any indoor events until June 1, 2021, and that’s if the homeless shelter closes March 31 as scheduled.
Womack wrote it will take six to eight weeks to repair any damage and clean and sanitize the buildings, plus finish a punch-list of items the contractor never got a chance to finish.
Shane Smiley with the Flea Market Vendors Association said that hundreds of families who operated flea market booths are suffering.
“There are well over 1,200 people who are not able to work right now,” Smiley said.
He said the flea market could operate as an open-air market to alleviate concerns about COVID since the expo buildings were constructed with roll-up doors.
Are there other options for housing the homeless? Yes, early in the pandemic, social service agencies proposed contracting with local hotels. They were quoted $39 a night so people didn’t risk getting sick in crowded missions. The city decided not to do that.
If the city had put 50 people in a night in hotel rooms at $39 a night, it would have cost about $410,000 for the last seven months. Instead, taxpayers have paid six times that amount, $2.5 million and counting.
The Mayor's office provided a statement to News4:
“CARES Act funding paid for costs to provide a safe and protected housing environment for neighbors experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Metro’s Office of Emergency Management is maximizing resources by having three separated shelters on a single site: one shelter for people without COVID; one shelter for people awaiting test results; and one shelter for COVID-19 patients. This shelter solution has alleviated and prevented overcrowding at the Nashville Rescue Mission, allowing for safe social distancing.
“Your hypothetical cost calculation for a hotel-based solution is not remotely representative of what one would cost.
“As your email mentioned, the safe housing of homeless individuals during a pandemic must account for the following needs:
- Medical staffing
- Medical supplies
- COVID-19 testing
- Security staffing
“Your nightly room rate estimate does not include any of those needs and is essentially equivalent to the free space provided by the shelters.
“If a hotel-based solution would have saved money and provided safe shelter of equal benefit, we would have done it.”
The Mayor's office said there are currently 137 people at the shelter at The Fairgrounds Nashville.