A handful of substance-abuse and mental-health treatment centers around the state will receive funding to hire regional housing facilitators tasked with helping people who are in recovery find safe and affordable housing.
Michael Waltke is senior director of adult outpatient mental-health and recovery services at the Helen Ross McNabb Center, which has several locations in east Tennessee. He said housing access is one of the biggest obstacles faced by individuals trying to piece their lives back together. "It's very difficult to get into housing if you're looking for low-income housing that is safe and affordable," Waltke said. "There are lengthy waiting lists, and then if you have a substance-use issue, unfortunately what tends to happen is those issues lead to behaviors that make it difficult for you to maintain your housing."
The recovery housing initiative receives $6 million in funding from both the state's budget and the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. Waltke said housing facilitators are trained to not only help people in recovery navigate renting and applying for affordable housing, but also work with landlords and community organizations to help create new housing. "Their role is really to help the state increase the number of housing units available for people who are low-income and have a substance-use history," he said.
Waltke said addiction often burdens community resources, leading to higher levels of homelessness and overutilization of local emergency services. He said reducing homelessness among substance-abusing populations is a positive step for communities. "The overall impact on the community is that you have less people who are homeless and struggling and impacting all of those other different systems," he said.
According to federal data, in 2018, nearly 8,000 people in Tennessee experienced homelessness.