Homelessness is a nationally important issue with economic, social, and spiritual implications. It is a concern that reminds us that, in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, many people's most basic needs for housing are not being met. On a national level, the Federal Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) has brought together federal agencies and other resources to coordinate a national effort to combat homelessness. The TNCC encourages similar coordinated efforts at the state level to find a comprehensive solution to homelessness.
Various counties across the state of Tennessee have conducted research studies on the impact of homelessness in our state. The results of the studies indicate that since 1986 there has been a 42% increase in the number of homeless individuals in Tennessee. That statistic alone should motivate us to do all we can to reverse the trend. Just as Jesus reached out to the poor, the disabled, and disenfranchised, so, now, our Church calls us to promote a plan for dealing with the oppressive situation that many of our brothers and sisters endure while experiencing homelessness. The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission urges that the following strategies be developed and implemented in the state of Tennessee:
A Statewide Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness: The state of Tennessee is one of the few states that lacks a specific plan to put an end to chronic homelessness over the next ten years. Many of the counties and municipalities within the state have developed and begun to implement such strategies. Both national and state funds have been used by many community organizations to build and maintain housing units that provide housing to people who might otherwise be homeless. But that heroic effort has not been enough. Therefore, the TNCPPC encourages our state government to develop a statewide plan to end chronic homelessness.
Move People into Housing First: The most critical issue facing the homeless is the lack of permanent housing. That issue, we believe, is the first and most important issue to be addressed. The “housing first” philosophy combines affordable, permanent housing with the supportive services necessary to increase self sufficiency to remain housed. The TNCPPC supports structures that allow for funding and support of developing permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless persons.
Stop Discharging to the Streets: Institutions such as mental hospitals and jails often lack referral services with access to permanent housing placements. Studies indicate that over 30% of those discharged from state mental health institutions end up homeless within six months. Young people who no longer qualify for foster care often become homeless. The TNCPPC endorses the creation of appropriate policies that will prevent the discharge of persons from institutional care to emergency shelters or the streets.
Increase Coordination and Effectiveness of Services: There are no simple solutions to the problem of homelessness and the nature and complexity of the issue calls for varying agencies and community services to come together to relieve the problem. The TNCPPC encourages a greater coordination of service providers that will result in coordinated case management, outreach and engagement of the homeless, and a single point of entry through a managed statewide data base to track and monitor the coordination of services for various clients.
Prevention of Homelessness: The prevention of homelessness is less costly in terms of dollars and human energy than working to meet the needs of those who become homeless. The TNCPPC advocates for services that contribute to housing stability such as housing counseling, rental subsidies, effective distribution of Section 8 Vouchers, as well as quality case management and preventative protocols for individuals being discharged from state institutions.
Homelessness is a significant challenge for Tennessee and one that should be addressed by social services, health care providers, government, business owners and consumers, neighborhoods, and the entire faith based community. We must work together to make homelessness a challenge of the past in ways that will ultimately strengthen our communities and our state.