This story was updated at 4:31 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, with more information.
Hamilton County is among three communities in the nation to receive a $2.2 million grant to help people who are homeless with a mental illness. The grant, awarded to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and announced Friday, will stabilize people considered "high utilizers" of the local health care and justice system, saving the county hundreds of thousands of dollars, Sheriff Jim Hammond said.
The money from the U.S. Department of Justice will allow the county to begin the pilot version of Frequent Users Systems Engagement (FUSE) — a program used in 30 communities throughout the nation with proven results stabilizing housing and keeping people out of jail.
The sheriff's office will work with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, CHI Memorial, Erlanger Medical Group, the Chattanooga Housing Authority and the city of Chattanooga to determine who is eligible for the support, Hammond said, though the program will not accept people convicted of felonies.
Hammond said the county jail system is detaining about 1,400 people at a total cost of around $100,000 a day. FUSE could reduce the number of incarcerated people by around 30%, he said.
Janna Jahn, FUSE project director, said the program will break the cycle for people with mental illness who frequently move among the area's hospitals, courts and jails.
"The goals and the outcomes that we're after are not only reduction in incarcerations but also hospitalization, use of emergency rooms [and] crisis systems to bring stability to their lives," Jahn said.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said residents should take pride in the area stepping up to help those in need. He thanked U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., for helping secure the grant for the county, something Coppinger thought would be difficult.
Approval of the grant will go before the Hamilton County Commission on Feb 26. If the grant is approved, the county will begin looking at possible locations and enrolling people in FUSE in the coming months with a goal of helping 100 people.