Community Snapshot of Memphis-Shelby County

January 28, 2014  |  Publications

From 2012 to 2014, overall homelessness in Memphis-Shelby County, Tennessee decreased by 21 percent and chronic homelessness among individuals decreased by 39 percent. And, the number of homeless families decreased by 30 percent, from 214 families in 2012 to 149 families in 2014.

The city of Memphis is located in Shelby County, Tennessee’s geographically largest and most populated county. Memphis is Tennessee’s biggest city and second largest metropolitan area, with a population of 655,155 people in 2012. At 31.7 percent, the 2012 rate of homelessness per 10,000 people in Memphis-Shelby County exceeded the state rate of 15 percent.

In 2011, the Mayors’ Committee to End Homelessness, led by the City and County Mayors, entered the implementation phase of its ten year plan to end homelessness. The plan included 18 strategies focused on preventing and ending chronic homelessness, family and youth homelessness, and veteran homelessness, and providing a pathway out of homelessness for all. With new Memphis and Shelby County mayors and a seasoned housing authority director staffing the Mayors’ Committee, the plan to end homelessness had political support and gained traction.

Key Initiatives

Increase Permanent Supportive Housing Supply.

Since implementing the Mayors’ Action Plan, the community has built on relationships with the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and with the Memphis-Shelby County network of non-profit and faith-based homeless assistance providers to expand the supply of permanent supportive housing units. The VA Supportive Housing (VASH) program has increased housing dedicated to homeless veterans by 275 beds. Many other new permanent supportive housing programs have become available during the Action Plan implementation phase. In total, Memphis-Shelby County has increased its supply of permanent supportive housing by 44 percent, from 562 beds in 2011 to 803 beds in 2013.

Community Profile

Ms. B was found when she was 6 months pregnant and she and her four year-old son were living in the park. She had been involved in a family violence situation and the Department of Children’s Services was investigating. The child she carried weighed only one pound and the doctors felt the baby would likely not survive. In addition to being homeless, she and her son were literally starving and not surprisingly, her son was having a tough time in school.

She was enrolled in the Strong Families Initiative that permanently houses homeless, child welfare involved families. With her new housing and stability, she successfully carried her baby to term and delivered a healthy 8 pound baby girl. She describes the huge relief she feels knowing that she has a safe place for herself and her children. Although tackling tough issues that would challenge any of us, these issues are more surmountable with a supportive team from Strong Families and her neighbors, now friends.

Prioritize Ending Chronic Homelessness.

Participation in the 100,000 Homes Campaign catapulted the community’s outreach efforts. Using a Housing First approach, Memphis-Shelby County has been conducting aggressive outreach to identify chronically homeless persons and connect them with permanent supportive housing. Providers use the Vulnerability Index and the Vulnerability Assessment Tool to identify chronically homeless, high barrier persons then connect them with permanent supportive housing. Since October 2012, 78 of the most vulnerable, chronically homeless persons have been placed in permanent supportive housing beds. Supportive services are coordinated using an approach similar to Assertive Community Treatment. Outreach partners meet twice monthly to review the vulnerability list and match those individuals with an appropriate housing provider.

Over 50 community partners also gather at Project Homeless Connect bi-annually to conduct outreach and engagement targeted toward
unsheltered, chronically homeless individuals. At the fourth Project Homeless Connect event in September 2013, a total of 833 homeless individuals, including 101 veterans, were provided with resources such as housing as well as employment and/or medical services.

Convert Transitional Housing.

A core focus of addressing homelessness has been decreasing the community’s reliance on transitional housing. The Community Alliance for the Homeless has focused on orienting providers to opportunities to convert transitional housing units, including providing cost and outcome comparisons between transitional housing and rapid re-housing.

Non-profit and faith-based providers throughout the community have helped reduce transitional housing by 46 percent (118 units) and are using those resources for rapid re-housing, which will serve at least 150 households annually, and 84 new units of permanent supportive housing. Metropolitan Interfaith Association (MIFA), for example, repurposed its HUD grants that operated 71 units of transitional housing, and is now using the funds to provide rapid re-housing. Simultaneously, MIFA donated the former transitional housing properties to Promise Development Corporation, another non-profit, to create permanent supportive housing for child welfare-involved homeless families.


From 2012 to 2014, overall homelessness in Memphis-Shelby County decreased by 21 percent and chronic homelessness among individuals decreased by 39 percent. The number of families experiencing homelessness decreased from 214 in 2012 to 149 in 2014 (30 percent) and the number of people in homeless families decreased by 24 percent (from 690 people to 526 people). Memphis-Shelby County’s public and private resources for homeless programs have shifted to provide permanent housing to families and individuals and to prioritize those most vulnerable.

Looking Forward

Like many communities, Memphis faces threats to its resources as sequestration has resulted in cuts to nearly every homeless program in the community. Planned projects that relied on Housing Choice Vouchers have been put on hold, and funding for supportive services has been cut by about a third.

Despite these challenges, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of homeless assistance in the Memphis-Shelby County community. Memphis was recently selected as one of five pilot sites to test supportive housing for child welfare-involved families. Catholic Charities of Memphis and Memphis Area Legal Services also received funding to implement a Supportive Housing for Veteran Families (SSVF) program to provide rapid re-housing services to approximately 160 families and individuals throughout Shelby County. Memphis’ homeless assistance system continues to forge relationships with other systems, such as VA, the Workforce Investment Network, and Department of Children’s Services, and foster collaboration among publicly and privately funded homeless providers throughout the community.