published Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Homeless veterans task force starts work in Chattanooga

For the next year, a group of veterans, community leaders, city employees and service providers will study how to find funds and housing for Chattanooga veterans who are continuously homeless.

Local officials estimate there are about 150 homeless veterans in the Scenic City and about 20 percent are chronically homeless -- meaning continuously for 12 months or four times within a three-year time frame.

Mayor Andy Berke pledged this year to end chronic veteran homelessness by 2016. And this week he met with representatives of the Obama administration as they unveiled a federal program to help cities across the nation do the same. So far Chattanooga is the only city in the state to make the pledge.

How the city will accomplish the task is yet to be determined.

The task force Berke handpicked met briefly for the first time Friday afternoon, and its members were charged with studying resources for funding and housing, researching the city's history on the problem and available health resources.

Beth Washburn, a social worker with the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, said Chattanooga started a local program with the Chattanooga Homeless Coalition in 2010 that began with 35 vouchers for homeless veterans and has grown to 50.

Workers identify the homeless veterans in the city at the local shelter and case workers help them get public vouchers for housing expenses and then monitor them to get social services, Washburn said.

Berke said those public vouchers are one of the main tools the city has, in addition to bringing together the various groups that already find solutions to this problem.

"My job is to get everybody together and then see your incredible work," Berke told the group on Friday.

Pat Townley, a veteran who works at a Flintstone, Ga., horse ranch that does therapy for veterans, said that realistically the city can't stop every veteran from ending up homeless. But through an organized effort from the community, the city can curb veterans who end up back on the street again and again, he said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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