ATLANTA -- On Tuesday came what many hope will be the first steps toward reducing or possibly even ending homelessness in Georgia.

The plan is for the legislature to come up with a statewide plan - and statewide funding - when the General Assembly goes back into session in January.

A special State Senate committee of legislators and community leaders began coming up with the plan - what some called hopeful, daunting and somewhat impossible to believe. But that was the goal.

From now until December, the Senate panel will try to nail down the problems contributing to homelessness right here in metro Atlanta and across the state - and then fix them.

One big problem appears to be the lack of behavioral health services. The committee chair, State Senator Renee Unterman of Gwinnett County, said that behavioral health services are crucial to helping the homeless get on their feet. But Georgia's per-capita spending for it is one of the lowest in the nation. So the problems get worse, costing taxpayers more in the long run.

"This is the ramification of all of these social ills that bubble up because people are not getting services on the front end," Unterman said. "They're getting high-cost services either in the hospitals, the jails or on the streets."

Senator Unterman said it's going to take statewide funding. She added that rural and suburban Georgia - not just Atlanta - are going to have to share the costs of the programs to end homelessness - partly because so many of the people who are homeless in Atlanta are from all over the state.

More shelters, she said, are not the answer but employment opportunities, workforce development, and behavioral health are.