There's not often a lot of good news on the homeless front, but cutting the number of homeless veterans almost in half since 2010 certainly qualifies. Add unsheltered homelessness and the reduction is 56%, according to the White House. It gets better. A number of cities and states have announced they have actually put an end to veteran homelessness. So there's hope – and as you'll read below – tools and strategies that your city can use to do the same. – Philip Bane
Based on results of the 2016 Point-in-Time Count of homelessness across the country conducted in January, veteran homelessness in the U.S. declined 17% in the last year to under 40,000 individuals, according to a White House announcement.
What that means is efforts around the country have cut overall veteran homeless nearly in half -- by 47% - since 2010. The progress is even more pronounced for veterans who had been living on the streets and without a place to stay. The number of unsheltered homeless vets declined by 20% last year and has declined by 56% since 2010.
The goal, of course, is to end veteran homelessness. To date, 25 cities and two states say they’ve done that. According to a fact sheet put out by the White House, federal, state and local partnerships have been essential to that success, serving as a blueprint for this critical work to continue in coming years.
How they did it
Last year New Orleans announced it was the first major city in the U.S. to effectively end veteran homelessness. Martha J. Kegel, Executive Director of UNITY of Greater New Orleans, describes how they did it:
"During an intense six-month campaign, community partners connected every veteran living on the street or in emergency shelter who would accept housing with an apartment of his or her own, with supportive services scaled to the veteran’s needs. Now we actively work every day to maintain a “functional zero” in veteran homelessness by housing any newly homeless veteran within an average of 30 days."
Kegel says New Orleans had both advantages and disadvantages in making its commitment to ending vet homelessness happen, but maintains that is something every community can and should do. A few recommendations from the New Orleans effort:
- Enlist your mayor.
- Make a comprehensive master list of all veterans experiencing homelessness living on the streets and in emergency shelter.
- Target your housing resources.
- Perhaps the most important key to ending veteran homelessness is passion and determination.
Detailed explanations of those four points can be found here.
In November of 2015 it was confirmed that Southern Nevada, described as a bustling community with an overall population of 603,000 people, had also ended homelessness among veterans living in the area.
"Community leaders say that it was the tenacity and relationship building of community stakeholders over many years that got them there," explained Alison Bond of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In a year's time, Southern Nevada placed 1,395 veterans experiencing homelessness into permanent housing. The key strategies they used are detailed here, organized around the federal criteria for ending veteran homelessness.
Not done yet
In announcing the milestone reduction in homeless vets at the Disabled American Veterans convention in Atlanta, President Obama said there's still more to do.
"We've helped bring tens of thousands of veterans off the streets," he said. "But we're not slowing down. We are going to keep up the momentum. We will not stop until every veteran who fought for America has a home in America. This is something we've got to get done."
There are a number of toolkits and benchmarks available to help communities end veteran homelessness. You can find them on the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness website.
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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.
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