On the streets of Phoenix, there are no more chronically homeless veterans.
Let that sink in for a moment.
There are no veterans in the City of Phoenix who have been on the street for more than one year consecutively or have had four episodes of homelessness in the last three years. That is the definition the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses for chronic homelessness.
Since the 1980’s, homelessness has been viewed as an intractable issue. Men and women huddled over grates in the depths of winter in Washington, D.C. are powerful memories that have stuck with me and compelled me to work on this issue. Now a major metropolitan city has demonstrated to the nation that we can end chronic veteran homelessness.
Many will say various iterations of “We’ll always have homeless people.”
Will we always have people who fall into homelessness? Yes, most likely. But mass chronic homelessness, particularly for veterans, is not something that has always been a fixture of American society. It has only been a persistent problem for around 30 years.
Poverty and homelessness are complex, multi-faceted issues that at a fundamental level are issues that will forever challenge cities. But chronic homelessness began manifesting itself as a result of the deinstitutionalization of public mental health facilities, a lack of affordable housing, and a lack of understanding of how to effectively tackle the issue on the part of federal, state, and local governments. Chronic homelessness among veterans spiked in the post-Vietnam War period, and there has been a continued increase in the chronic homeless veteran population since the Gulf War in the ‘90s and the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How did Phoenix end chronic veteran homelessness? This accomplishment did not just happen. Far from it.
As discussed in previous blog posts and outlined in a case study earlier this year, Phoenix has had the perfect storm of bold leadership, an influx of resources dedicated to veterans, community collaboration, and partnerships among all levels of government using data-informed strategies.
Now is a moment that has never happened before. Phoenix offers a tangible example that others cities can replicate in order to end what can only be characterized as a national shame and a tragedy.
Cities such as Houston, Salt Lake City, and others are well on their way to joining Phoenix. Partners such as the National League of Cities, the 100,000 Homes Campaign, Community Solutions and The Home Depot Foundation are already at work to help spread these lessons.
During this season, when the less fortunate are on the minds of many of us, this accomplishment offers hope that there is a way to end a level of suffering that should never be felt by anyone, least of all by those who have served our country.
In 2014, we hope your city will join Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and others in what is truly an amazing race – the race to get to zero chronically homeless veterans.
For more information about what you and your city can do, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch Mayor Greg Stanton make this historic announcement on the MSNBC website.
About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is a Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.