Mayor Bill Haslam, along with the mayors of Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis, has asked Governor Bredesen to consider offering some funding from the State to help in addressing the issue of chronic homelessness. You can read Tom Humphrey’s story in the News Sentinel right after you click this link.
As Mayor Haslam mentions in the article, many chronically homeless people are mentally ill and became homeless after discharge from mental health facilities. These people don’t have family capable of meeting their needs, and they don’t have anywhere else to go, so they are effectively discharged into the streets.
Think about it this way. Those homeless folks you see, over and over, when you go downtown? A lot of them would have been institutionalized 30 or 40 years ago. They’re not institutionalized anymore. The State has been reducing its institutional capacity since the 1970s. Most of the severely mentally-ill live among us now. A lot of them live on the street.
It costs us a lot to support a chronically-homeless person. We spend an average of about $40,000 per year to do that, not including food and emergency shelter. Click here to learn more about estimated costs in Knoxville. When chronically homeless individuals gain access to permanent supportive housing, this cost declines dramatically. Click here to learn more about that. The cost discussion is about halfway down the page, but all of it’s worth reading.
There’s a shortage of affordable rental housing in Knoxville, and we need more of it to house chronically homeless people. “Affordable” means rental housing that costs up to 30% of the income of a renter who makes at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). For chronically homeless people, we need to be even more affordable than that: up to 30% of an income that is at or below 50% of AMI.
One thing we’ll be working very hard on over the next several years is building more affordable rental housing. That’s where permanent supportive housing happens. There is money available from outside the local community to build and operate affordable housing. It comes in the form of grants and loans from agencies like HUD, the FHLB, and THDA. The monies that come from those agencies originate with the Federal government.
Why do we need help from the state budget, then? Mostly we need it to help us provide supportive services.
Remember, chronically homeless people are disabled, by definition. Many of them are disabled specifically by mental illness and addiction. They will not succeed in housing by themselves. They need to maintain a strong relationship to a case manager who works to connect them with other appropriate supportive services.
That’s part of the reason Mayor Haslam is asking the State for help. We would like the State to invest along with us in delivering solid case management and other supportive services to people in Permanent Supportive Housing. The Mayor and his colleagues are asking the State to invest specifically in ending chronic homelessness in our local communities.