Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services' Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, by the authority of Governor Bill Haslam, is reconstituting the Governor's Interagency Council on Homelessness, with the aim of not just reducing but eliminating homelessness among veterans, the chronically homeless, families, and children.
"When he was mayor of Knoxville, Bill Haslam realized the high cost and impact homelessness has on neighborhoods, communities, governments and entire cities and regions," said Commissioner Varney. "He saw the need and addressed it. Governor Haslam realized it takes a coordinated effort to bring about change, both in policy and how we perceive individuals who struggle with homelessness."
The Governor's Interagency Council on Homelessness will coordinate Tennessee's efforts, and identify, develop, and ensure sustained partnerships among supporting agencies, service providers, and those who advocate for people experiencing homelessness.
The Statewide Council on Homelessness will focus on addressing challenges in partnership with other local, state, and federal organizations. The council may include representatives deemed necessary by Commissioner Varney, including, but not limited to, representatives of the following:
- Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
- TennCare - Tennessee Healthcare Finance Administration
- Tennessee Department of Health
- Tennessee Department of Veterans Services
- Tennessee Housing Development Agency
- Shelby County Government
- Metro Nashville-Davidson County Government
- Persons who have experienced homelessness, in recovery from serious mental illness, substance use disorders, or co-occuring substance use and mental health issues
- (SSI) Supplemental Security Income and (SSDI) Social Security Disability Income Outreach, Access, and Recovery
- Community-based, CABHI service providers (Cooperative Agreement to Benefit Homeless Individuals)
- U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
- Governor's designee, to be selected by the Governor
"The challenges we face with homelessness in Tennessee affects us all," said Varney. "Our chronically homeless, veterans, families, and especially children deserve a coordinated statewide and community-based effort."
Strategic and time-sensitive goals have been established to address and solve homelessness among the three primary target populations in Tennessee with the objective to effectively ending homelessness among the most vulnerable citizens in Tennessee by 2020.
"If we do nothing, the end result is a very high price," said Varney. "Many homeless cost studies show that there is a savings to governments and communities that invest in providing the right blend of support and services to individuals who are experiencing homelessness and chronic homelessness."
As homelessness will never be completely eliminated in Tennessee, representatives of the reconstituted Statewide Council on Homelessness are confident, with established support services in place, no one will be homeless longer than 30 days.
"Securing housing, temporary supplemental income, Social Security benefits, employment, treatment for mental health and substance use, and other social services is a part of the plan and will result in cost savings," said Varney. "When you consider the alternative and expense of doing nothing, not to mention human suffering, this is a logical, economical and most of all a compassionate approach."
The council will make an annual progress report to the Governor at the end of each fiscal year and shall exist for as long as resources are available, as determined by Commissioner Varney in consultation with the Governor.