The Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness
The East Tennessee Coalition for the Homeless, in conjunction with Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, identified the need to examine homelessness in the area and to establish a plan to address the needs of the homeless population.
The Planning Team
The mayors selected a group of civic and community leaders to serve on a task force to develop a ten-year plan to end chronic homelessness in Knoxville and Knox County. The task force was charged to:
- Review the extent of chronic homelessness and existing services in Knoxville and Knox County;
- Solicit input that represents stakeholders and the larger community;
- Define the problems that need to be addressed to reduce and prevent chronic homelessness;
- Review “best practices” in other communities;
- Identify current and needed efforts, strategies, and models that will effectively address homelessness in Knoxville and Knox County;
- Develop a ten-year plan to end chronic homelessness with action steps and timelines.
Permanent Supportive Housing: Housing First
The ten-year plan to end chronic homelessness in Knoxville and Knox County is part of a national movement to end long-term or chronic homelessness. The plan offers a long-range, comprehensive approach to help homeless people gain stability in permanent, supportive housing.
The way we do things now is costly, and it leaves too many people on the streets. With the very best intentions, but for too long, homelessness has simply been managed. Service providers of all kinds have worked to make homelessness more tolerable, more bearable, for homeless people. Typically, when housing has been offered under this old paradigm, it’s been as a reward for successfully completing one kind of program or another, whether that be addiction counseling, or job training, or something else.
The housing first model recognizes that people need to be housed in order to effectively address the issues that have contributed to their homelessness. Permanent Supportive Housing places homeless people in a home, and then surrounds them with the social services they require in order to succeed. This is cost effective, because formerly-homeless people do not go to emergency rooms, jails, and mental hospitals nearly as much as do people who are still on the streets. Their incidence of crime and public disturbance declines sharply. This costs our society less than the old way of managing homelessness.
Emphasis: Chronic Homelessness
The emphasis on chronic homelessness reflects a new initiative on the national level. Under the leadership of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and its Executive Director, Philip F. Mangano, localities across the country have developed plans to end chronic homelessness. By adapting the national model and practices to local needs, the number of individuals who are in danger of becoming chronically homeless should decrease. The Knoxville and Knox County ten-year plan will support state, regional, and federal efforts.
Implementing the actions recommended in this plan will cost money, but that cost is considerably lower than the cost of addressing homelessness through public emergency systems. Likewise, doing nothing will incur a far greater cost in the loss of human potential. While the ten-year plan focuses on chronic homelessness, it will also reduce the incidence and length of homelessness among youth, families, and individuals who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.
Why Focus on Chronic Homelessness?
The Ten-Year Plan focuses on people who are chronically homeless: disabled individuals who have been homeless for more than one year, or who have experienced at least four episodes of homelessness within the last three years. While they represent 10 to 15 % of the homeless population, they are the most visible and often suffer from long-term unemployment, untreated mental illness, and substance abuse. When a small segment of a population places exceedingly high stress on the service systems, it impairs the ability of those systems to serve others who fall into homelessness for causes that are more readily addressed or people who are simply at risk of homelessness.