Everyday across Tennessee, in cities and towns, we see the impact of insufficient housing and support services for individuals diagnosed with mental illness or co-occurring disorders. Specifically, we see these individuals struggling to cope with the difficulties of repeatedly going through our systems of help, such as hospitals, mental health centers, homeless shelters, faith-based and social service agencies, and in most cases, never finding a permanent solution to their basic needs. A growing number of individuals with disabilities enter this system daily looking for hope, help, healing and a home. We hear frustration over this phenomenon from persons diagnosed with mental illness and co-occurring disorders, caseworkers, Managed Care Organization representatives, community stakeholders, and family members. We hear frustrations about the limited availability and questionable conditions of housing where those they care about reside.

Much has been done by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health (TDMH) to respond to this significant need, including the creation the Office of Housing Planning and Development, now the Office of Housing and Homeless Services, in February of 2000. Marie Williams, LCSW, was appointed Director of the Office of Housing Planning and Development with the expressed mission to develop and expand permanent housing options/services for individuals with mental illness and co-occurring disorders.

This mission has been addressed through a targeted, grassroots, local community, multi-agency, collaborative called the Creating Homes Initiative (CHI). The original goal of the CHI was to assist at least 2005 persons with appropriate permanent housing options by the year 2005. This goal was met in 2002 and the goal reset to 4010 by 2005. This goal was exceeded. The next goal was to create 8009 housing opportunities by the end of 2009. The ongoing annual allocations for this initiative is $2,500,000. These dollars have assisted in the development and leveraging of approximately $259,660,252 to create 7,228 new, permanent supportive housing options to date (02/2009).

This use of new federal, other state, and local funds has produced housing options in the following categories (identified within this website):

  • Supervised group housing with on-site staff 24 hours a day
  • partially supervised group housing with staff on-site as needed
  • independent congregate housing (non-supervised group housing)
  • private/public market rental housing
  • homeownership

In 2004, the TDMH reorganized, and the Office of Housing Planning and Development was renamed the Office of Housing and Homeless Services and became a part of the Division of Recovery Services. Marie Williams was appointed Executive Director and later Assistant Commissioner of Recovery Services. Gregory Fisher and later Bob Currie was named the Director of Housing and Homeless Services.

State CHI dollars have been utilized to secure seven Regional Housing Facilitators (RHF). Click here for more information about the Creating Homes Initiative and the Regional Housing Facilitators. 
These Regional Housing Facilitators are located in each of the statewide planning council districts and work to enhance and expand housing options for people who have mental illness or co-occurring disorders. It is through the local organizing and facilitation of these Regional Housing Facilitators that the CHI has seen such tremendous results.

In the midst of the success being realized by the CHI, barriers to accessing these developing housing opportunities and choices were identified. After much discussion about the experiences gained from the CHI endeavor, two major goals emerged: 

  • Design and implement a more effective, consumer-directed, accessible housing resource system for Tennesseans with mental illness and co-occurring disorders to increase the number of persons in appropriate, quality, affordable and safe housing.
  • Effectively reduce the stigma of mental illness statewide, while changing community attitudes and misconceptions regarding community housing for persons with mental illness and co-occurring disorders and provide a more welcoming environment for persons who reside in Tennessee neighborhoods.

In September of 2001, The Real Choice Systems Change grant “Housing within Reach” was awarded to TDMH. The project's goals were to expand housing access through a housing resource utilization system, create comprehensive utilization tutorials and educational programs related to housing opportunities and available choices, overcome community stigma through education and mass media campaigns, all while utilizing meaningful involvement of individuals with mental illness and co-occurring disorders throughout the process.

Over the next five years, the Housing within Reach program accomplished these goals through the development of this website; the organizing of three comprehensive housing academies; the administration, analysis and publication of the findings of a longitudinal evaluation; and the dissemination of anti-stigma materials including the airing of anti-NIMBY television commercials. The Housing within Reach project builds upon the CHI's success to make a sustaining system change across the state in creating and expanding quality, affordable, safe, accessible and permanent supportive housing options for people with mental illness and co-occurring disorders in Tennessee.