Houston Becomes Largest City to Effectively End Veteran Homelessness

Last week, Houston Mayor Annise Parker joined hundreds of service providers, community members and business leaders to announce that the city had built the system necessary to effectively end veteran homelessness.

Mayor Annise Parker discusses how Houston effectively ended veteran homelessness.

Mayor Annise Parker discusses how Houston effectively ended veteran homelessness at the official announcement event on Monday, June 1. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

“Too often those that answered the call of service still find themselves struggling long after leaving the military. Houston is there for our heroes, and just like on the battlefield, we will leave no one behind,” said Mayor Parker. “From regular provider coordination meetings and aligning local and federal resources, to dedicated street outreach teams and a coordinated assessment system that identifies, assesses, refers and navigates homeless veterans to housing, the Houston region has come together as a team to transform our homeless response system to effectively end veteran homelessness.”

Joining Mayor Parker were Representatives Al Green, Shelia Jackson Lee and Gene Green, as well as the Secretaries of the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Labor and the Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). The senior Administration officials attended the announcement as part of a three-city tour urging cities to mirror the success seen in Houston.

Houston is the largest city to make historic progress on veteran homelessness. In January, New Orleans announced it had reached a similar milestone and previously, Phoenix and Salt Lake City had announced an end to chronic veteran homelessness in their cities.

As the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston also has one of the nation’s largest veteran populations. During her remarks, Mayor Parker noted that Texas is one of the largest states contributing men and women to the military and that many veterans come to Houston following their service because of its economic opportunities.

Both the mayor and federal officials used their remarks to recognize the unfortunate reality that some veterans will experience housing instability and may become homeless. However, because the city has now built a coordinated system, once a homeless or at-risk veteran is identified, the community has the resources and ability to rapidly place the veteran into housing.

To make this system a reality, over 35 local agencies worked together under a collaboration called The Way Home. Collectively, in just over three years, this response system has housed more than 3,650 homeless veterans.

To help cities better understand what it means to meet the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, USICH has developed 10 Strategies to End Veteran Homelessness and issued criteria that communities who have joined the challenge can use to determine if they have built a system that effectively ends veteran homelessness.

One year ago, Mayor Parker was among the first mayors to join the Mayors Challenge. During the June 2014 launch of the challenge at the White House, Mayor Parker spoke about the progress already being seen in Houston. Twelve months later, Mayor Parker joins Mayors Becker, Stanton and Landrieu as local leaders who understand what the end of veteran homelessness looks like and have rallied their communities to make similar historic progress.

With only six months to go until we reach the ambitious timeline set to end veteran homelessness nationwide, local leaders have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the landscape of how we understand and deal with homelessness.

Through the Mayors Challenge, elected officials across the country have stepped forward to give their support to ending homelessness for our veterans. Community stakeholders have more than 600 officials waiting to hear specific and pragmatic requests that can help house our veterans more rapidly.

This show of support by elected officials has never happened before and may never happen again.

In the remaining months, community partners must make tangible requests and engage elected officials with local data on progress being made and the needs moving forward. By illustrating the success that can happen with the active support of elected officials, communities can better partner with local leaders to advocate for the resources necessary to continue the progress seen on veteran homelessness and extend the progress to other homeless sub-populations.

Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix and Salt Lake City have recognized these facts and seized this opportunity.

Make your city the next to create history.

To read Houston’s announcement, click here.
To read NLC’s press release on the achievement, click here.
For more information on how to end veteran homelessness in your city, visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing or email harig-blaine@nlc.org.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

First Lady Honors New Orleans for Ending Veteran Homelessness, Announces New Resources

On Monday in New Orleans, first lady Michelle Obama joined Mayor Mitch Landrieu and community members to congratulate them for becoming the first city in the nation to achieve the goal of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. To help other cities reach the goal of ending veteran homelessness this year, the first lady announced three new resources.

First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness event in New Orleans. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness event in New Orleans. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

As part of celebrations marking the fourth anniversary of the Joining Forces initiative, Mrs. Obama highlighted the progress seen on behalf of veterans on employment, education, health care and mental health. Recognizing that veteran homelessness is at the intersection of these elements, the first lady said the issue “cuts straight to the core of what it means to support those who serve our country.”

“When we have tens of thousands of veterans who don’t have somewhere to go when it rains – that is a stain on our nation,” said Mrs. Obama. “That’s why, as President, my husband has vowed not to simply manage this problem but to end it. And overall, since 2010, we’ve housed nearly 230,000 veterans and their families.”

In January, Mayor Landrieu announced the city was the first to reach the historic milestone of achieving functional zero for homeless veterans. The city’s progress accelerated after Mayor Landrieu became one of the first mayors to join the challenge.

“This isn’t just an extraordinary achievement for the city, this is a call-to-action to our entire country,” said Mrs. Obama. “You all have proven that, even in a city as big as New Orleans, veterans’ homelessness is not a reality that we have to accept. It is not an impossible problem that’s too big to solve. Just the opposite – you’ve shown us that when leaders make this problem a priority and bring the right folks to the table, we can find a solution.”

Noting the importance of mayoral leadership, Mrs. Obama highlighted the actions taken by some of the other 570 mayors, governors and local officials who have committed to ending veteran homelessness by the end of this year.

  • Los Angeles housed more than 5,000 veterans last year.
  • New York City has cut the number of homeless veterans by more than half.
  • Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle and Mayor Rusty Bailey of Riverside, Calif. have supplemented federal funds with city funds to provide rental subsidies and rapid rehousing services.
  • Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy has invested nearly $3 million for homeless veterans, plus even more for veterans’ security deposits

New Resources

To support mayors who have joined the challenge, Mrs. Obama announced that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would begin regular conference calls to discuss proven best practices.

In addition, the first lady announced the availability of nearly $65 million to help more than 9,300 homeless veterans find permanent housing with HUD-VASH vouchers.

Finally, Mrs. Obama announced a commitment from Blackstone Equity to provide “Welcome Home Kits” for veterans when they transition into new housing. Blackstone’s portfolio of companies, such as Hilton, Motel 6, and La Quinta Inns and Suites, will be working with local leaders in 25 cities to provide furniture, appliances and other supplies.

Following the first lady’s remarks (which can be viewed in full here), Matthew Doherty, recently named Executive Director of USICH, spoke with Mayor Landrieu about some of the city’s keys to success.

Matthew Doherty (left) and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

Matthew Doherty (left) and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

The mayor noted that many of the lessons applied to ending veteran homelessness arose from the city’s experiences following Hurricane Katrina. Among these lessons was the importance of convening stakeholders to facilitate vertical and horizontal communication among local, state and federal agencies.

Mayor Landrieu pointed to his unique ability as mayor to convene and ensure that all stakeholders were “pulling in the same direction.”

As collective conversations were held, the community recognized the need for help identifying homeless veterans throughout the region, as well as a need for more housing. To meet these challenges, the mayor reached out to area landlords and property management companies, particularly those that were already working with the city and local housing authorities.

In addition, the community engaged the area’s active duty military personnel and veteran service organizations, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. With the participation of other veterans, more of their homeless peers were identified, engaged and connected to services.

Throughout the day, the first lady and Mayor Landrieu urged participants of the Mayors Challenge to bring together key representatives to better understand what is happening to end veteran homelessness in their community. To help mayors identify where to start their conversations, the National League of Cities (NLC) has developed Three Steps & Five Questions, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has published Five High Impact Steps, and HUD has compiled numerous resources as part of the Mayors Challenge Desk Book.

For more information about how NLC can support your city’s work to end veteran homelessness, visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing or contact harig-blaine@nlc.org.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

How the City of New Orleans Ended Veteran Homelessness

President Obama & HUD Secretary Castro @ 2015 NLC Congressional City ConferenceAs part of his remarks last week at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., President Obama thanked city leaders for stepping forward and joining the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Echoing the President, HUD Secretary Julián Castro thanked city officials for their partnership and leadership, citing the recent announcement by the city of New Orleans as the latest proof that the goal of ending veteran homelessness in 2015 is achievable. (photos: Jason Dixson)

Building on the success of Phoenix and Salt Lake City in ending chronic veteran homelessness, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced in January that the city had achieved the goal of the Mayors Challenge and reached functional zero on homelessness among all veterans.

In making the announcement, Mayor Landrieu said, “Six months ago on Independence Day, we came together to pay homage to our service members and veterans who courageously serve our great nation, and announced our goal to effectively end veteran homelessness in New Orleans by the end of 2014. I am honored and very pleased to report that we have housed 227 veterans, exceeding our goal of 193, thanks to the hard work of our committed partners. We owe our veterans our eternal gratitude for their service and sacrifice to this nation, and making sure they have a place to call home is a small but powerful way we can show our appreciation.”

To help disseminate some of the best practices from New Orleans, the city’s work has been highlighted during joint NLC/HUD regional forums in support of the Mayors Challenge. According to city officials, there were several key elements that led them to this historic accomplishment:

  • Leadership

Mayor Landrieu was one of the first mayors to join the Mayors Challenge. His support of the work was translated into daily engagement thanks to a dedicated staff person. The mayor’s focus resulted in specific challenges being identified and pursed relentlessly.

For example, in response to service gaps identified by community partners, the city committed HOME Investment Partnership resources to pay for rental assistance and to help with the development of permanent supportive housing. Mayor Landrieu’s leadership also served as a catalyst for other elements of success, such as:

  • Collaboration

Central to the success in New Orleans was the coordinated teamwork of all community partners. Joining the city in the effort were public and private partners from the local, state and federal levels.

Locally, the 63 partner agencies and service providers that are part of the Continuum of Care, including UNITY of Greater New Orleans, were critical allies. In addition, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, Housing Authority of New Orleans, Downtown Development District, and the New Orleans Interagency Council were key partners. These stakeholders joined forces with officials from federal partners at HUD, Veterans Affairs and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) as well as leaders from organizations such as Community Solutions, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and The Home Depot Foundation.

  • Access to affordable housing

Collectively, these partners enacted a local strategy to provide all veterans with access to permanent housing and supportive services. In the face of housing shortages faced by most major metropolitan areas, caused by rising rents and low vacancy rates, housing solutions in New Orleans have been further complicated by the on-going recovery from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, which flooded 80 percent of the city.

One way the community identified housing for veterans was through direct landlord engagement. Mayor Landrieu sent a letter to all landlords currently contracting with the city and the housing authority. Landlords were invited to a forum to learn more about available housing resources as well as the coordinated collaborations that would partner with them in support of formerly homeless veterans.

In addition, the city’s partnership with the Housing Authority of New Orleans, the local VA, and UNITY of Greater New Orleans resulted in 200 Housing Choice vouchers being designated for veterans no longer in need of HUD-VASH vouchers or other permanent supportive housing programs. This allowed other VASH and supportive housing vouchers to be made available for other homeless veterans.

As the city entered the final stretch of their efforts, a critical number of housing units became available through the Sacred Heart apartment complex. “The Sacred Heart units set us up for success when we needed it most,” said Sam Joel, the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor during a recent HUD/NLC Mayors Challenge forum.

Initially built in 1908 as a convent and school, the first of Sacred Heart apartments’ three development phases began accepting tenants in December 2014. When completed, the building will have 109 units, comprised of efficiencies and one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. 55 units will be prioritized for chronically homeless veterans, with the remaining 54 units being available for households earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income. As development continues, the building also will have a sunroom, a computer lab, a courtyard area and an on-site parking lot.

The $7.6 million project was made possible by a partnership between The Home Depot Foundation, the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana, UNITY of Greater New Orleans, and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. Various local, state and federal affordable housing programs were used to finance the construction of the property, including $1.2 million from the Landrieu administration. The remaining gap in financing was provided by The Home Depot Foundation.

In addition to providing investment capital, the Foundation donated construction supplies, fixtures and other furnishings for the new units. Volunteers of the local Team Depot visited the site to deliver and assemble furniture such as tables, chairs and shelving to ensure the veterans’ new apartments were comfortable enough to call home.

Elisha's blog post - Team Depot at Sacred Heart in NOLAMembers of Team Depot assemble furniture for veterans as they move into units at the Sacred Hearts apartments in New Orleans. (photo courtesy of The Home Depot Foundation)

Maintaining Functional Zero

New Orleans joins Salt Lake City and Phoenix in proving that communities can solve an issue once thought to be intractable. New Orleans’ success demonstrates that, with persistent leadership, community collaboration and the determination to identify needed housing, cities can provide housing for all veterans and ensure that future episodes of homelessness are rare, brief and non-recurring.

As the first city to declare they have reached the goal of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, New Orleans provides precedent for how a city can measure and discuss what it means to “end veteran homelessness.” Attaining this goal has come to be characterized as reaching “functional zero.”

New Orleans defines ending veteran homelessness as ensuring every homeless veteran who can be located is placed in permanent housing or in temporary housing with an identified permanent housing placement.

“Veteran homelessness is an important and challenging issue, and we are very proud of our accomplishment in New Orleans – but the work of ending veteran homelessness is never really done,” said Mayor Landrieu. “That’s why we have also created a new and sustainable rapid response model that combines all available local, state and federal resources with the work of our local active duty and former military personnel – utilizing veterans to help veterans. I hope our model here in New Orleans can be replicated nationwide so that we can end veteran homelessness in America once and for all.”

Veterans and others will always face periods of housing instability. But ensuring homelessness is not perennial is a dramatic change in how our country has addressed homelessness for more than 30 years. New Orleans’ accomplishment – and Mayor Landrieu’s understanding of what functional zero means for his city – provides guidance as other cities move closer to this goal.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

5 Reasons Veteran Homelessness in This State Dropped 75% in 100 Days

The Commonwealth of Virginia is poised to be the first state to end veteran homelessness, providing hope – and evidence – that we can end this national disgrace.

Terry-McGov. Terry McAuliffe recognizes community leaders who participated in the 100 Day Challenge, which aimed to place homeless veterans into permanent housing. (Flickr: Terry McAuliffe)

Yesterday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe joined federal, state and local leaders to celebrate a momentous achievement in the fight to end veteran homelessness. Over the course of 100 days, the Commonwealth of Virginia decreased veteran homelessness by 75 percent. The fastest drop in veteran homelessness ever made by a state.

The accomplishment builds on the success of a growing number of municipalities, including Phoenix, Salt Lake City and New Orleans who have ended or significantly decreased the number of homeless veterans in their communities.

“Ending veteran homelessness is a key component of making Virginia the best state in the country for active duty military personnel, veterans and their families,” said Governor McAuliffe. “I am proud of the progress we have made as a Commonwealth, but we cannot rest until every Virginia veteran has a safe and affordable place to live.”

How is such a dramatic change possible? Like most achievements – it took a lot of hard work. But for this once thought intractable issue, turning the corner has relied on these five components:

Virgina Veteran Homelessness Infographic

Click on this infographic to view it in a larger format.

1. Leadership

From early on, Governor McAuliffe and his administration made ending veteran homelessness a priority. McAuliffe was one of the first Governors to join the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. His commitment inspired 14 mayors and county executives to join the Challenge.

Under the Governor’s direction, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs John Harvey, led the Department of Veteran Services’ work to develop a statewide “boot-camp.” The statewide coordination was driven by the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness, local providers and guided by the experience of the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, as well as nationally recognized organizations such as the Rapid Results Institute and Community Solutions.

In addition, to support local improvements in service delivery, the Governor proposed funding of $1 million that would help provide veterans with access to housing through the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development. He also proposed increasing the number of housing counselors working as part of the state’s Wounded Warrior Program from three to five. The counselors support veterans as they navigate the housing process. These proposals have broad bipartisan and bicameral support in the state legislature.

2. Collaboration

In late September, as part of a two-day homeless veteran boot-camp, local leaders from cities across the commonwealth joined with homeless service providers, veteran groups, local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs), officials from the state’s Department of Veteran Services, Virginia Housing Development Authority and from federal partners including the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The boot-camp focused on four regions across the commonwealth. The teams represented Richmond, Roanoke, the Peninsula region (Newport News and Hampton) and South Hampton (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Suffolk). During the boot-camp, each team developed week by week action plans based on the demand for services and the resources in each community.

In reviewing their success, each of the four teams acknowledged the importance of working with each other more effectively. Most teams met bi-weekly to discuss their progress, address obstacles, refine each partner’s role and responsibilities and collectively match clients with available housing. The improvements in community conversations were paired with commitment from federal leaders.

This collective dedication created an environment of accountability. With the setting of ambitious goals came an expectation by on-the-ground staff that they would be given the tools needed, such as answers to regulatory ambiguities that had previously slowed progress. Conversely, leaders had agreed upon goals with a timeline by which they could measure progress each week.

3. Data-Driven Planning

The 2014 point-in-time count found 620 homeless veterans statewide. The four teams aimed to house 370 homeless veterans during the 100 days. These goals were determined using data from community Homeless Management Information Service (HMIS) systems, VA data and on-the-ground knowledge of the area’s homeless veteran population informed by outreach workers and case managers.

This data quantified the existing demand for services and was paired with a mapping out of the services and resources available in each community. PHA representatives discussed the allocation of HUD-VASH housing vouchers, traditional housing choice vouchers (section 8) and other housing resources. Non-profits discussed their administration of resources from the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) programs, which provides money for homelessness prevention and rapid-rehousing, as well as the Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program that supports transitional housing.

Using this data to guide the way forward, each of the four teams exceeded their initial goals. All told, the four teams housed, or will place into housing very shortly, 462 veterans.

4. Proven Strategies

With progress being seen in communities across the country, there is a clear understanding of what works. Phoenix, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Houston and others such as those involved with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 25 Cities Initiative have put in place coordinated assessment processes. The most successful of these processes include a prioritization component (the VI-SPDAT) to help efficiently place the most vulnerable individuals into housing.

In each community, these tools operated within a collective agreement that Housing First was the way forward. Stakeholder conversations were built upon the understanding that the best way to solve homelessness was by placing people in housing and providing them with the person-centered resources and services necessary to maintain housing.

In this environment, each community focused on how to make that concept a reality.

5. Concrete Goals

As elected officials have joined the Mayors Challenge and cities across the country have begun reaching a tipping point on veteran homelessness, many are asking what the end of veteran homelessness means. What does this look like?

In the past year, the term “functional zero” has surfaced as a way to talk about this concept. Recently, USICH published a two-page guide to help leaders better understand when their city has met the Mayors Challenge.

“There are no longer any veterans experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the community…the community has the resources and a plan and timeline for providing permanent housing opportunities to all veterans who are currently sheltered but are still experiencing homelessness,” says the report.

It is particularly important for elected leaders to understand the concept of functional zero.

No elected official operates under the notion that capital infrastructure projects are elements of a static municipal plan. Community needs for water, sewer and transportation evolve. Equally, functional zero brings cities to the point where they can maintain the progress that brings the availability and application of resources in line with the demand for services.

The social capital that cities develop in order to reach functional zero must be maintained and evolve over time. As homeless veterans are housed, they can be provided services and build the trusting relationships that can help even the most resistant individuals. Over time, these relationships and services reduce harmful behaviors, such as addiction, and connect veterans and their families to education, employment and credentialing opportunities.

Today, we are less than 11 months away from the federal goal to end veteran homelessness. To help spread the lessons learned in Virginia, NLC is holding regional forums with HUD across the country, including at our upcoming Congressional City Conference next month in Washington, D.C. (register here today).

As the Commonwealth positions to be the first state to end veteran homelessness, they provide hope, but more importantly evidence, that we can end this disgrace.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Regional Forums Begin as HUD and NLC sign Memorandum of Understanding

The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness presents a rare opportunity for local officials to lead the way across the finish line on a community issue once thought intractable.

HUD-Meeting-PhillyA regional forum in Philadelphia supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. (Photo Credit: HUD)

This week in Philadelphia, mayors, city representatives, non-profit leaders, federal and state officials gathered as part of the second regional forum supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

The first forum was held two weeks ago in Austin before the start of NLC’s annual conference, the Congress of Cities and Exposition. During the conference, NLC and HUD signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding to develop more regional forums across the country.

As part of the regional forums, local elected officials are not only encouraged to join the challenge, but are provided more information about the available resources in communities and who are the local contacts. In addition, participants share with one another how they have made progress toward ending veteran homelessness.

During this week’s forum, participants heard from representatives about success in Philadelphia and Binghamton, New York. In Binghamton, Mayor Richard David and the city commission pledged their commitment to end veteran homelessness at an event on September 5, 2014.

After making his commitment, Mayor David reached out to local veterans, homelessness advocates, community leaders, service providers and state and federal officials. Collectively, the group identified veterans in need and the available resources in the community.

As of November 12, 21 veterans had been housed and that night, there were no veterans sleeping on the streets of Binghamton.

During the Austin forum, participants heard about specific actions taken by the city in Salt Lake City, New Orleans and Houston.

In Salt Lake City, officials worked with county and state leaders to ensure program administrators using CDBG resources only needed to file one report to meet federal reporting requirements rather than multiple reports for local, county and/or state CDBG dollars.

Additionally, Mayor Becker has engaged local landlords to provide apartments for veterans who have been matched with supportive services and housing resources. Similarly, in New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu worked with local realtors and property management companies to recruit landlords to join city efforts.

Houston’s Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives spoke about the importance of creating a “yes” culture. “We have learned that it is not enough to simply have a drop-in center or VASH or SSVF or even coordinated assessment; we must have a “yes” culture,” said Mandy Chapman-Semple. “We operate with the understanding that there is a housing option for every homeless veteran and that it is our duty to offer those choices and deliver.”

Another key element of the regional forums is developing an understanding of what the end of veteran homelessness looks like. While veterans will continue to experience housing instability due to economic, medical or personal circumstances, representatives from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and HUD discussed the end of veteran homelessness meaning that any episode of homelessness is brief, rare and non-recurring.

In Philadelphia, stakeholders believe they will reach this point, called “functional zero,” by fall of 2015. This achievement was first made in Phoenix and Salt Lake City among chronically homeless veterans in the last year.

As part of Congress of Cities, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, joined a panel with the President of Denver’s City Council, Chris Herndon and representatives from The Home Depot Foundation, Community Solutions and the American Legion. The panel discussed how an initial focus on ending homelessness among veterans can better position cities to improve the community for everyone.

Mayor Stanton and Councilman Herndon talked about the opportunity their communities have found to tie together supportive services related to employment, education and healthcare after veterans are stably housed.

Mayor Stanton specifically discussed how his community is now beginning to move the successes they’ve learned around chronically homeless veterans to non-chronically homeless veterans and all chronically homeless individuals and families.

Stanton-SessionPhoenix Mayor Greg Stanton speaking during a panel session at the Congress of Cities in Austin.

With a 33% decline in veteran homelessness since 2010, including a 40% decline among unsheltered homeless veterans, cities across the country are proving that homelessness can end.

In 391 days, we reach the federal goal date when we have aimed to end veteran homelessness. The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness presents a rare opportunity for local officials to lead the way across the finish line on a community issue once thought intractable. Regional forums developed by NLC and HUD will continue to help city leaders identify specific actions they can take to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home.

For specific questions and actions you can take in your city, see Three Steps & Five Questions.

NLC and HUD are actively developing future regional forums. If you are interested in learning about or having a regional forum in or near your community, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine at harig-blaine@nlc.org.

 Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Progress Being Made on Veteran Homelessness, But More to Be Done

 Veteran homelessness has dropped 33% since 2010 and 10% in the last year alone.

Navy-Vet-HomelessnessHomeless U.S. Navy veteran looks for his size while collecting free clothing in Denver. Getty Images.

As part of NLC’s on-going State of the Cities series, Veterans Day offers an opportunity to look closely at how cities are following through on their commitment to veterans.

Commanding the headlines in recent days are the promises of VA Secretary Robert McDonald to shake-up VA personnel.

Getting less attention is the dramatic progress being made to end veteran homelessness. Veteran homelessness has dropped 33% since 2010 and 10% in the last year alone. For the 5,846 veterans placed into housing in the last 12 months, ending their homelessness is the most definitive “thank you for your service” that could ever be delivered.

Coordination Unlocks Innovation

In reviewing State of the City addresses from 100 cities across the nation, local leaders are highlighting their support of existing and expanding partnerships. As cities improve how unprecedented levels of resources are coordinated on the ground, they are showing that the issue of homelessness – once thought to be intractable – can actually be solved. By making progress on homelessness, cities are also addressing other important issues and laying the groundwork for dealing with future challenges.

Homelessness InfographicIn San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee has made housing a centerpiece of his economic development plans. His leadership has placed the city at the forefront of national efforts to address homelessness. In support of a 7-point plan to build or rehabilitate at least 30,000 homes by 2020, he has signed an executive order giving priority-status to permits for affordable housing developments.

The Mayor’s plan comes as the city joins the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ 25 Cities Initiative. The city’s program, Homes for Heroes, is a collaborative effort between the city’s Housing Department, the police department, the San Francisco Housing Authority, the local VA medical center, veteran service organizations, non-profits and local businesses to improve how local systems identify and house homeless and at-risk veterans and the chronically homeless. The result has been a more than 20% reduction in veteran homelessness from 2011-2013, according to HUD’s Point in Time count.

Across the bay, Oakland is also integrating a renewed focus on ending homelessness with the development of affordable housing and housing counseling. In her State of the City address, Mayor Jean Quan highlighted the opening of the city’s Housing Assistance Center. In only a few months, the city has served thousands of residents as a one-stop portal for housing issues and services. This city-led coordination comes as two former hotels have been redeveloped into 101 studio apartments to house low-income individuals and the recently homeless. The Savoy project’s success led Gizmodo, a leading technology and design blog, to name it one of the 7 Smart New Affordable Housing Projects Making Cities Stronger.

Miami, Fla. is another city that is part of the VA’s 25 Cities Initiative. During his State of the City address, Mayor Tomás Regalado noted that meeting the needs of homeless veterans and the city’s ever expanding senior population required partnerships with philanthropies. “The city has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation to help rehabilitate the homes of our elderly and disabled veterans. In the next few weeks the first home belonging to a Vietnam era disabled veteran will be rehabilitated, ensuring that our commitment to taking care of elderly and disabled veterans is a reality.”

In Miami alone, The Home Depot Foundation has invested more than $660,000 and provided volunteer support for 22 projects benefiting veterans. These investments are part of more than $83.7 million spent in support of 3,780 projects which have built or preserved more than 13,000 units of housing.

Away from the coasts, the past year has shown historic accomplishments in Salt Lake City and Phoenix. Both cities have cracked the code of chronic homelessness. Thanks to bold leadership from Mayors Becker and Stanton, these communities have no more chronically homeless veterans.

This important milestone has shown that cities can end seemingly unsolvable problems by bringing all partners together, identifying their strengths and remaining community gaps. The implications of the successes in Salt Lake City and Phoenix have resonated with elected officials across the country. Mayors from Eugene, Ore., Saint Paul, Minn., Columbus, Ga. and Norfolk, Va., each noted this accomplishment when discussing veterans issues and homelessness as a part of their annual addresses.

The state of our cities is best when all who have served our country have a place to call home. To help bring the progress on veteran homelessness to other cities, NLC is supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness and the more than 250 local officials who have already joined.

We have the resources, the know-how and the leadership to end veteran homelessness in the next 415 days for the remaining 49,933 veterans without a home. What remains is figuring out how we bring these elements together.

For more information about how NLC can support your city’s efforts to end veteran homelessness, contact harig-blaine@nlc.org.

 Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

How Cities Balance Urban Development and Affordability

“The recovery of the housing market in many cities is the very definition of a double-edged sword.”

condo

Earlier this year, President Obama named a mayor to be the new Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It’s no surprise that former San Antonio Mayor, Julián Castro was appointed to this position – the selection reflects the unique understanding local officials have about the central role housing plays in the health of communities.

Our analysis of mayoral State of the City addresses makes this even clearer. Almost two-thirds (65%) of speeches in our sample “covered” housing and over one-fifth (22%) devoted “significant coverage” to the topic.

Housing is one of only a few issues that everyone can quickly relate to in a visceral way – it impacts where our children go to school, how we get to work, what we do for fun and can also be viewed as a social statement.

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At the core of housing, though, is cost. And this is reflected in our data. The issue of affordable housing was discussed in 41 of the 100 speeches we analyzed. With half of renters spending more than 30% of their income on housing and 28% of renters spending more than half of their income, it’s not surprising that city leaders are giving voice to the growing impacts of this issue on their neighborhoods.

The scarcity of affordable housing is made more difficult by reductions in federal resources aiding cities, such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the HOME Investment Partnership Fund (HOME). Since fiscal year 2010, CDBG has been cut by 24%, while HOME has been cut by 45%. These reductions have significantly reduced the ability of cities to support the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing.

The recovery of the housing market in many cities is the very definition of a double-edged sword. To capitalize on undervalued properties, developers in many cities are building higher-end projects. Rising home prices are helping to replenish the tax base while cities still feel the lingering effects of the great recession, but this also exacerbates the affordable housing crisis, discouraging or outright preventing first-time homebuyers and placing upward pressure on rents.

These trends are being felt across the country. For example, in Norfolk, Va., Mayor Paul Fraim proudly noted the city’s building permit activity was again at pre-recession levels. Norfolk’s median home prices and their assessed values were up, said the mayor, while distressed sales were down.

The development of luxury condominiums and retail were touted as signs of progress and economic recovery in cities from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Lenexa, Kan. Mayors in cities such as Euclid, Ohio, Jersey City, N.J., Ferndale, Mich. and Lansing, Mich. all heralded the growth in home prices. Many of these cities were some of the hardest hit during the market crash and the price gains come even as cities continue to deal with remaining blight.

Lansing, Mich. is working with Michigan State University to help strategically direct their blight removal and spur economic development. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, Md., continues to drive the Vacants to Value program, while expanding the city’s Apartment Tax Credit to promote the construction of new apartments.

How Cities Are Addressing Affordability

With cities facing so many interconnected issues surrounding housing, local leaders have stepped up, creating a climate of creative leadership to address longstanding structural issues.

In Valparaiso, Ind., the city is investing in more transit-oriented development to meet changing demographics and affordability needs. Recognizing that both young professionals and empty-nesters are drawn to the city for its social and economic opportunities, Mayor Costas called on the city to “boldly but responsibly” create more critical mass and sustainability to ensure their downtown is positioned to thrive in the decades to come.

More broadly, cities are at the forefront of addressing the nation’s growing income disparity – which has clear implications for housing affordability. San Diego and Seattle are leading efforts to address housing affordability by no longer focusing on subsidies alone.

In San Diego, Mayor Falconer called on the city council to place a measure before voters to raise the minimum wage. “Lower-income workers are more likely to spend their additional wages on basics like food, housing and transportation,” said the mayor. “That is good for businesses. It is good for San Diego. And it is good for all of us. Let’s reduce the need for subsidized housing. Let’s start paying people enough to be able to afford the rents and mortgages in our city.”

Seattle has already moved forward with this approach. Earlier this year, Mayor Murray signed new legislation that raises the city’s minimum wage to $11 by April 1, 2015 and to $15 by January 1, 2017.

While affordable housing remains a challenge, bold experiments happening in cities offer insights on how to ensure all residents have equitable access to all that our cities have to offer.

This post is the second blog in NLC’s State of the Cities project. In a future post, we’ll continue discussing the impact of housing as it relates to improving the delivery of services to vulnerable populations.

 Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Momentum Building as White House Celebrates Progress on Veteran Homelessness

Participants of the 100,000 Homes Campaign hear from Dr. Jill Biden during White House event this week.

Participants of the 100,000 Homes Campaign hear from Dr. Jill Biden during White House event this week.

Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference about the growing number of elected officials who have joined the Mayors Challenge to End Homelessness.

“The fact that right now our country has more than 58,000 homeless veterans is a stain on the soul of this nation,” Mrs. Obama said. “It is more important than ever that we redouble our efforts and embrace the most effective strategies to end homelessness among veterans.”

Launched at the White House last month, the Mayors Challenge now includes more than 180 local leaders, as well as support from four Governors.

Earlier in the week, the White House hosted local leaders from across the country to celebrate the success of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. A message from Dr. Jill Biden congratulated communities for housing more than 105,000 of the nation’s most vulnerable homeless, including more than 31,000 veterans.

The events come as cities participating in the Department of Veteran Affairs’ 25 Cities Initiative make significant progress in improving the community systems serving homeless veterans.

Launched in March, the initiative is building on the successes and lessons of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. With technical assistance, cities are developing locally tailored systems to help identify the homeless, prioritize them for service, and place them in available housing that can support them based on their individual needs. In Washington, D.C., community stakeholders have already housed more than 200 individuals using their new system.

In addition to developing these systems, some other lessons of the initiative include:

  • San Francisco: The city is dedicating housing resources for veterans not eligible for VA services. In addition, the city is prioritizing veterans within the Public Housing Authority’s plan.
  • Boston: In announcing his participation in the Mayors Challenge and NLC’s Leadership Network, Mayor Walsh launched www.homesforthebrave.boston.gov, a city hosted website where employers can offer jobs and landlords can offer units for homeless veterans.
  • Seattle: The city’s team has begun looking at how to work with surrounding jurisdictions to identify needed housing due to the high cost of rentals.
  • Baltimore: Obtained a $60,000 commitment from the city to use resources raised from the community to pay for move-in expenses, utility arrears, and other costs needed to place the homeless into new homes.
  • Detroit: The community is using staff from the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program to guide homeless individuals through the complex process of finding a home and the services they will need to keep it. These staff members are a part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

To help other communities learn about what is happening across the country to end veteran homelessness, NLC hosted a webinar with officials from San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Community Solutions, and The Home Depot Foundation. The webinar outlined four steps and five questions that local leaders can take to end veteran homelessness in their city.

All of these efforts are creating the change needed to end veteran homelessness by the federal goal of 2015, and end chronic homelessness in 2016. Communities are showing that ending veteran homelessness is no longer a dream, but a reality, one city at a time. To support cities, Community Solutions has launched Zero: 2016. Unlike previous efforts, cities must apply to be a part of this effort and have the commitment of key leaders.

To learn more about Zero: 2016 and have your city apply, go to www.zero2016.org.

For more information on NLC’s work visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing.

 Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

How Do You House 101,628 People?

One at a time.

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(From left to right) Fred Wacker, COO of The Home Depot Foundation; Becky Kanis, Campaign Director, 100,000 Homes Campaign; Alvin Hill, recently housed U.S. Army Veteran

Alvin Hill, an Army and National Guard veteran, now has a safe place to call home after being homeless for nearly 20 years. Alvin is one of 31,171 veterans out of the 101,628 people housed by communities participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

In less than four years, 238 communities across the country have implemented data-driven strategies such as Housing First, rapid re-housing, progressive engagement, client prioritization and coordinated assessment to bring community members without a home out of the shadows and into stable living conditions.

Previous posts on this blog have documented the successes of cities such as Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Nashville. These communities and others have brought together local leaders with non-profit service providers, federal and state agencies, faith-based communities, educational institutions, philanthropies and the private sector to ensure unprecedented levels of support for homeless veterans.

Together with federal agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development resources such as HUD-VASH and Supportive Services for Veteran Families, the 100,000 Homes Campaign has helped lead efforts that have resulted in a 24% decline in veteran homelessness since 2010.

Philanthropies and corporate partners such as The Home Depot Foundation and JP Morgan Chase have complemented these federal resources with unwavering support.

“This campaign has shown that we can end homelessness,” said Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor at HUD. “We sometimes hear that ‘some people want to live on the street.’ We choose to believe that when we can’t act. This campaign has shown that we can act and we can succeed.”

Alvin was brought home when his caseworker at ASPAN in Arlington, Virginia acted. “She told me it would be alright and in one month she was showing me apartments where I could live,” he said. “I’m not nervous about speaking to you all today, because I know when to be nervous. I was nervous when I had to sleep at the airport, on the street, in the park, or in the laundry mat. Today, I have a counselor, a place to wash my clothes. Homelessness can end with you.”

As the federal goal of ending veteran homeless in 2015 nears, the success of the 100,000 Homes Campaign must be expanded. Last week, the First Lady announced the Mayors Challenge to actively engage elected officials. NLC is supporting this effort with the Homeless Veteran Leadership Network led by NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, NLC 1st Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor of Salt Lake City, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. This week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced his support.

Over the last three decades, our country has seen the growth and perpetuation of homelessness. It has become such a prevalent part of urban living that most believe the issue is too complex to ever solve. For years, even homeless advocates have been operating to manage the issue rather than solve it, with the consistent refrain being that there are not enough resources.

Today all of that is false.

Data-driven strategies have been tested and proven. Historic levels of resources are now in the hands of service providers.

Cities have shown homelessness can end. What is left is our choice to act.

 Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

First Lady Urges Leaders to Join Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness

First Lady Michelle Obama recognizes Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker for his city's efforts to eliminate veteran homelessness.

First Lady Michelle Obama recognizes Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker for his city’s efforts to eliminate veteran homelessness.

Yesterday in the East Room of the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the launch of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness as part of the Joining Forces initiative. Joining the First Lady were mayors from cities across the country, including St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Houston, New Orleans, Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

These local leaders are some of the 77 mayors, four governors and four county officials who have committed to ending veteran homelessness in their communities by the end of 2015.

“When a veteran comes home kissing the ground, it is unacceptable that they should have to sleep on it,” said Mrs. Obama. “The fact that we have more than 58,000 homeless veterans is a moral outrage. We can’t just throw up our hands and say that this problem is too big for us, because the truth is, it’s not.”

The First Lady noted that local officials are leading efforts to end veteran homelessness, “because it’s not just the right thing to do for our veterans, but it’s the right thing to do for their budgets.”

She continued, “Recent studies have shown that just one chronically homeless person can cost communities between $30,000 to $50,000 per year in emergency room visits, medical bills and law enforcement. For some individuals, it can be even higher. But the cost to give someone a home of their own is only about $20,000.”

The event comes as the federal goal of ending veteran homelessness in 2015 is less than 18 months away. With a decline of 24 percent in veteran homelessness since 2010, the nation is making significant progress – and much of this success, as the First Lady noted, is because of city leadership.

Creating a “Yes Culture”

Cities have been at the forefront of ending veteran homelessness for reasons that were summed up by Houston’s Director of Homeless Initiatives, Mandy Chapman Semple, who spoke about the ability of mayors to create a “yes culture.”

“Mayor Parker created a ‘yes culture’ that was brought together with technical expertise on the ground,” said Chapman Semple. “Service providers are often eager to collaborate but don’t know how. When their obstacles are identified with the help of technical engagement and the support of mayors, then there really is a yes culture.”

Mayor Parker’s leadership has relied on measurable goals and appropriate metrics to gauge progress. “In Houston, we were initially measuring our success by how many veterans we were placing into housing,” said Mayor Parker. “But then we realized that our housing retention rate was only 50%. We knew we had to fix something. As a result, we focused on what we could do to ensure veterans stayed in housing.”

Mayor Parker said that leaders have to be willing to use a “big stick” and block funding for organizations who do not adjust to meet the goal of ending veteran homelessness.

The mayor went on to say, “We have a lot of great organizations who for decades had been doing good work, but they were working in parallel. We brought everyone together and said that the silos that were preventing success had to be broken down. We identified who was doing what worked best and aligned everyone around the specific goal of ending veteran homelessness.”

Building a Network

The theme of city leaders breaking down silos, forming partnerships and accomplishing what needs to be done was echoed by other mayors in attendance.

Joining Mayor Parker was NLC President and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, NLC 1st Vice President and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Mayor Coleman spoke about developing systems that provide “real time” information through partnerships with state agencies, non-profits and other stakeholders. In addition, the mayor discussed the importance of local leaders using their positions in the community to raise awareness about ending veteran homelessness and urging their peers in surrounding cities to join them.

To help gather support among local leaders, Mayor Coleman created the Homeless Veteran Leadership Network (HVLN) within NLC. The HVLN supports the Mayors Challenge by engaging NLC members to join the Challenge, connecting them to technical resources and sharing best practices.

Focusing on What Works

Other best practices shared by leaders from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), and Department of Veterans Affairs and other cities such as New York and Tallahassee include:

  • Engaging all sectors of the community and coordinating them through a lead agency designated and supported by the mayor.
  • Using data-driven strategies such as Housing First to place homeless veterans into housing and include supportive services as necessary.
  • Developing “coordinated assessment” systems to effectively and efficiently match available resources to those in need.
  • Knowing all homeless veterans by name and prioritize them for services using tools such as the Vulnerability Index.
  • “Co-locating” federal VA officials in the same physical space as city and state agencies to reduce the amount of time and the number of trips veterans must make before getting needed services such as access to employment, healthcare, and education.
  • Having trained police officers actively engaged with homeless service providers.
  • Integrating employment efforts with the work of homeless service providers.
  • Providing free public transportation passes to veterans.

Continuing the Momentum

Throughout the day, local leaders were recognized for the critical role they play in ending veteran homelessness. With progress being seen in so many communities, there is no doubt that momentum is building. We know what works, we have the data and for the first time in decades, communities have the needed resources.

The White House’s recognition and leadership is a testament to this exciting moment. But in the end, honoring our veterans goes beyond events at the White House and parades on holidays. Truly honoring the men and women who have served our nation must first be made evident by all of us doing what is necessary to ensure each and every veteran has a safe place to call home.

Click here to join the Mayors Challenge today.

For more information about how NLC can help start or improve efforts to end veteran homelessness in your community, visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing or contact us at veterans@nlc.org.

Watch the First Lady’s announcement and read the White House fact sheet.

 Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.