Earlier this week as I approached the steps of our building, I noticed a man sitting against newspaper stands with a white cardboard sign that simply read “homeless vet.” Out of habit, I kept walking. After less than 10 feet though, I was struck by what I knew was my obligation to honor his sacrifice by making sure he got the help he needed.
Rob was an infantryman in the Army. Served in Afghanistan. Honorably discharged five months ago. He came home to a changed marriage that quickly ended in divorce and resulted in him losing his house. His savings kept him off the street for a few months, but eventually that money ran out. Now he’s here in our nation’s capital being briskly walked by and getting the occasional dollar and change from someone who had just bought a coffee at the Starbucks he sat across from.
Fortunately, Washington, D.C. is one of the many cities that today have HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Support Housing) vouchers. There are also several non-profits administering the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). Since Rob is not “chronically” homeless, it is likely that with a relatively small amount of assistance and perhaps some job training, he could quickly be self-sufficient once again. This is the exact purpose of the SSVF program. Fortunately, with one phone call Rob was connected with Friendship Place, a service provider who collaborates with other stakeholders in the community to ensure veterans like Rob receive assistance from the right programs for their needs.
Today, many communities are stepping forward to ensure the resources in their city are being directed to those who need them most. One such city is Salt Lake City. Recently, Mayor Ralph Becker proclaimed November to be Veterans Housing Month. In the coming weeks, it is anticipated that Salt Lake City could become the first city to house all of their chronically homeless veterans.
Not to be outdone though, the City of Phoenix will hold a press conference on Veterans Day to discuss how they have reduced chronic veteran homelessness by 62 percent in just two years. Mayor Greg Stanton and other community leaders will outline how the city will house the remaining 56 unsheltered veterans in the coming weeks.
These cities illustrate what is possible when political leadership and community collaboration combine to provide the proper level of resources and work to implement data-driven strategies.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan noted the examples of Phoenix and Salt Lake City during his remarks at the National Alliance to End Homelessness – Never Another Homeless Veteran event earlier this week. NLC is a proud partner of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign and urges everyone to sign the statement committing to ending veteran homelessness today. Leadership committee members of the campaign include President George H.W. Bush, former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and Colin Powell, former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, The Home Depot Foundation, and many more.
At our Congress of Cities and Exposition in Seattle next week, Mayor Becker and Mayor Stanton will join Vince Kane, Director of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, and Becky Kanis, Campaign Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign to discuss how more cities can join Salt Lake and Phoenix in their race to getting to zero chronically homeless veterans.
In an era of tight budgets and partisan politics, providing an unprecedented level of resources for our veterans has received broad bipartisan support. But this support must be met with decisive actions on the ground. Local leaders can be the difference between success and failure. Veterans Day parades are nice, but making sure all veterans and their families have a place to call home is a more lasting way of showing our appreciation for their commitment and sacrifice.
About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is a Senior Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.