ATLANTA — Georgia needs to target issues around mental health and substance abuse in order to address needs of the state’s homeless population, state lawmakers say.
A state Senate study committee has released nine recommendations that it says will improve access to mental and behavioral health services. Doing so will help keep people off the streets, committee members said.
There is the potential for quite a few pieces of legislation revolving around mental health and substance abuse, said state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford. Unterman, who chairs the committee, sees a direct correlation between mental health and substance abuse issues and homelessness.
“It is a very complicated issue, but just because it’s complicated, you shouldn’t push it aside, because eventually it’s going to bubble up,” Unterman said.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the committee has met since September to take testimony on problems and possible solutions affecting the homeless. Issues being examined include a lack of transitional housing for those who have been recently released from prison or addiction rehabilitation programs.
There are more than 10,000 homeless people in Georgia, according to a federal count done in January. That number is down about 25 percent since 2015, the Atlanta newspaper reported.
Members of the committee voted to encourage the General Assembly to help locate additional housing for those who qualify for the Georgia Housing Voucher Program, which provides rent assistance to those who have mental illness and are chronically homeless.
Unterman said that although it can be difficult to get additional money for new or existing programs, she believes the study group has helped elevate the issue.
“A lot of times this issue is considered a dirty part of society,” Unterman said. “No one wants to think about either living in the streets, living in extended stay, all the kids in schools that don’t have a home to go home (to) at night.”
“Even if I can’t solve the issue, I can bring the issue to the forefront,” she added.