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By Martha J. Kegel
Three months ago, after a campaign led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans became the first major city to effectively end Veteran homelessness. 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.
I firmly believe that every community can and should end Veteran homelessness.
Yes, New Orleans had some advantages. For one thing, the local VA and its partners had already achieved a significant reduction in Veteran homelessness before we started the final drive in June 2014. At that point, we had already driven down the number of Veterans suffering in homelessness from 660 in the January 2011 Point-in-Time (PIT) count to 193 in the March 2014 count. For another, we have a very strong visionary leader in Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who set the bold goal of ending Veteran homelessness a full year before the federal deadline, convened the key players, and recruited active duty military and Veteran groups to help with outreach.
But in other important ways we were at a distinct disadvantage: As of the 2014 PIT count, New Orleans still had one of the highest per capita rates of Veteran homelessness in the nation as compared to our general population of only 379,000 residents. We were also at a disadvantage in resources: Compared to many other cities, we have precious few ways to pay for housing and services other than federal funds. And when pushing ourselves to get to zero, we were confronting the challenge of housing those whom we had always failed to connect to housing before – those Veterans who tended to have the most complex challenges and who for the most part were not eligible for HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
By: The 25 Cities Downtown San Diego Design Team
Before he unlocked the door to his studio apartment in September 2014, Ben Jaramillo had been homeless in the downtown area of San Diego for four years. “I was working as a carpenter, and ended up in my van when work fell flat, and then just kind of stayed there out of convenience and convenience turned into necessity and necessity turned into stuck, because of finances,” he said.
Jaramillo described the challenges he experienced while living in his van. “If [my van] breaks down I can’t use it for transportation, and if it gets towed, I’m really jammed up. Then I have to find someplace else to live, which means turning to my friends or a shelter or, push comes to shove, on the street.”
In June, Jaramillo participated in a Vulnerability Index and Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT) survey during a 25 Cities Street Outreach week. VI-SPDAT is one tool the San Diego community is using as part of its Coordinated Assessment and Housing Placement (CAHP) System. The following week he was assigned a Housing Navigator, who helped him understand the resources available to him and collect necessary documents for permanent housing. Soon after, he was matched to a Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) rapid rehousing program through Veterans Community Services, a division of Community Catalysts of California and a partner in the San Diego 25 Cities Effort. The Veterans Community Services SSVF program assisted Ben in finding and staying in permanent housing and provided him with financial assistance to help him pay his rent.
By Peter Nicewicz
We often say at USICH that to end homelessness nationally, we must end homelessness locally. To help communities optimize their current resources to accelerate progress towards ending Veteran homelessness, we have identified ten essential strategies for communities to increase leadership, collaboration and coordination among programs serving Veterans experiencing homelessness, and promote rapid access to permanent housing for all Veterans. Each strategy is accompanied by resources to help community leaders and stakeholders understand how to implement these strategies more effectively.
Meanwhile, we have been working on the Federal level to assist communities as they work to reduce the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness and build the systems to prevent its recurrence. Below is a highlight of some of the Federal efforts aimed at helping communities develop and optimize their systems of connecting Veterans experiencing homelessness to permanent housing and the appropriate services and resources Veterans need to have a safe and stable place to call home.
By 25 Cities
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), launched the 25 Cities Effort in March 2014. The 25 Cities Effort is a key Federal strategy through which 25 communities, including Washington, DC, are receiving technical assistance and are mobilizing local planning efforts and partnerships to create effective systems for aligning housing and services interventions through coordinated systems to end homelessness. Led by VA, in partnership with HUD and USICH, the aim of this effort is to assist 25 communities in accelerating and aligning their existing efforts toward the creation of coordinated assessment and entry systems, laying the foundation for ending all homelessness in these communities.
Many Veterans echo the sentiment that their military experience helped them develop important skills that they now apply in their civilian lives.
Today, a year after getting permanent housing and getting out of homelessness, Michael Horton – a Marine Corps Veteran and the Director of Business Development for the National Association of Concerned Veterans (NACV) – is passionate about helping other Veterans who encounter challenges in transitioning to civilian life. “If it wasn’t for my service I can’t imagine where I would be, and now that I am where I’m at and understanding the challenge not only for me but for other Veterans, [helping Veterans] is my passion and purpose,” he said. “That’s why I’m working with NACV now.”
Erica Myrtle-Holmes, Horton’s case manager at the Washington, DC VA Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC), recalled that Horton demonstrated this passion long before he transitioned out of homelessness. “He was very helpful with new Veterans who were coming in [to the CRRC] that were newly homeless,” she said. “He really took them under his wing.”
10/31/2014 - Good News from New Orleans: Federal and Community Collaboration Helped Transform This Veteran’s Life
By DaVaughn Phillips
Mr. H. seems like a completely different person from the man I met just a few months ago. He is thriving in his own home, with a stable income to maintain his living expenses and support his family. More importantly, he has regained the strength, motivation, and courage he needed to become self-sufficient and to serve as a positive role model for his children. After three years of working in New Orleans to help people achieve permanent housing, it never ceases to amaze me how rewarding it feels to play a role in such a transformation.
By Laura Green Zeilinger, USICH Executive Director
Whether as a result of a health or economic crisis or fleeing domestic violence, the experience of homelessness is extremely traumatizing for families generally, and can be especially traumatizing for children. We know that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every family experiencing a housing crisis. Connecting families to housing interventions and services that are appropriate to their specific needs is an essential part of the actions we identified as critical to meeting the goal of ending homelessness.
Safe Havens have long been a refuge for people with severe and persistent mental illness and other disabilities who also experience episodes homelessness, often for long periods of time. Since 1992, Safe Havens have been part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Supportive Housing Program and will continue to be funded through the new Emergency Solutions Grant program. Designed to offer low-barrier services and supports to the most hard-to-reach people, Safe Havens can provide a sense of stability and security for people who would otherwise be exposed to the life-threatening environment on the streets. Here, people who were formerly disconnected from the community and supports are able to move inside and begin to focus on how they can transition from the streets to permanent, supportive housing. For fifteen years, Safe Place in Tampa, Florida has been offering safe haven to some of that community’s most vulnerable residents. The program is operated by Mental Health, Inc., an agency that works to advocate for and give hope to all people touched by behavioral health and developmental challenges. Recently they’ve begun a new phase in their work as a Safe Haven that partners with the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) to help connect Veterans to this valuable resource.