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.

housing-data-final

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.

100K-Homes

(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.

NLC at 90: Supporting Our Nation’s Veterans

NLC is celebrating 90 years of making cities better place to live. Read the anniversary kick-off letter from NLC President Chris Coleman, mayor of Saint Paul, Minn.

NLC supported veteran education opportunities following the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

As NLC celebrates its 90th anniversary, we again join the nation in pausing this Memorial Day weekend to reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

Today, as in the past, cities face the reality of thousands of veterans returning home from the battlefield. With their unique skills and experiences, veterans are assets to our communities.

To support veterans and their families, NLC works with local leaders to ensure our veterans successfully reintegrate into communities after their time in the military has ended.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, NLC partnered with the Office of Economic Opportunity to establish the Veterans’ Education and Training Services (VETS) program. The program worked with veteran “peer counselors” in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Providence, Seattle and Wichita.

Peer counselors worked with veterans to help them connect to education and training programs, employment counseling, housing and other services.

In the program’s first three and a half years, more than 25,000 veterans were connected to some form of assistance. An outside evaluation of the VETS program noted, “The most effective programs tended to be those with strong ties to local governmental agencies.”

Today, NLC’s work to support veterans continues. As the country’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan declines, our military is undergoing force reductions due to changing global needs. The confluence of these factors with an economy continuing to recover from the Great Recession has led to veteran unemployment rates that have been above the national average, particularly for veterans who have served after September 11th.

These challenges are one element that can explain why young veterans and their families are already being seen among the ranks of our nation’s homeless.

To help end this national tragedy by the federal goal of 2015, NLC has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation. By supporting cities, sharing best practices and engaging with local efforts, The Home Depot Foundation, NLC and cities have been a part of a 24 percent decline in veteran homelessness since 2010.

This progress is due to a focused effort by the President and agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. While these federal agencies have provided resources and technical support to communities, it has been the collaborative work driven by city leaders that has powered this change.

From San Diego to Salt Lake City, Phoenix to St. Paul, New Orleans to Washington, D.C., cities are at the center of efforts that are uniting all levels of government with the non-profit community, faith communities, the business sector and philanthropies.

Cities will always be hubs of economic activity and services. Ensuring veterans receive the dignity of a safe place to call home and the opportunity to continue serving their community has been a hallmark of NLC’s first 90 years.

Moving forward, NLC and our members will continue our presence on the front lines to honor our veterans and their families.

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.

Serving Veterans in Rural America Requires City Engagement

After enduring years of Vermont winters on the streets, a homeless veteran finally found a place to call home through a partnership between regional nonprofits, the Veterans Administration and the City of Winooski, a town with a population of less than 7,300.

When asked about the impact on his life, he said, “this program has helped me stay sober for three years. I have been given not just a physical home, but also a state of mind home, and that is a great feeling.”

Replicating this success with other veterans in largely rural areas like Winooski requires regional cooperation between many stakeholders to overcome the unique challenges of long distances and sparsely populated areas.

From Service to Shelter, a report released this week by the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) and The Home Depot Foundation, highlights the troubling prevalence of veteran homelessness in rural America, resources available to address the issue and models for successful implementation.

The report found that veterans are over-represented in the homeless population in rural areas, and the overall rural veteran population is getting older. Currently, 43 percent of veterans in rural America are aged 65 or older, and that number is expected to rise to 70 percent in the next 10 years.

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In recognition of these challenges and facts, a collaborative effort between HUD, VA and the Department of Labor has been piloted in five communities near major military installations. The Veteran Homelessness Prevention Demonstration (VHPD) targeted two of its locations near Ft. Hood and Ft. Drum, both of which have significant rural areas nearby.

While the pilot program’s evaluation is not yet finalized, two primary concerns and possible solutions have already emerged. The first challenge is not surprising. The large geographic size of rural areas makes service delivery challenging. To ease this challenge, officials are looking at ways to co-locate services delivered by federal agencies. By having all assistance in one stop, people can avoid multiple and costly trips.

The second challenge is the increased levels of isolation and the stigma associated with getting “help.” In a small community, the sense that “everyone knows everyone” appears to have the effect of discouraging people from accessing services that could help bring them out of homelessness. Federal officials realize that changing the location and manner of how services are delivered will be necessary to overcome this barrier. The precise process for doing this will require the insights and help of local leaders who can assist their federal partners with a more nuanced understanding of their community.

Efforts such as VHPD are part of an unprecedented level of federal support for homeless veterans. In support of the federal goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the Administration has dramatically increased the availability of resources that serve veterans.

With the availability of resources at an all-time high, local coordination is the principal challenge. Having service providers identify homeless veterans, assess their needs in a coordinated manner and prioritize the delivery of services ensures that the right resources are delivered to the right person at the right time. Progress is being made and is reflected by the 24 percent reduction in veteran homelessness since 2010.

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Information compiled by:
NCH

To help ensure veterans in rural areas have a safe place to call home, The Home Depot Foundation is partnering with HAC as part of its Affordable Housing for Rural Veterans Initiative. Through the initiative, HAC and The Home Depot Foundation have awarded grants totaling more than $260,000 to nine local nonprofit housing associations to build or preserve housing for veterans in rural America.

In addition to the grants, HAC provides rural nonprofits serving veterans with training, research and other assistance to help increase their capacity and allow them to better serve their communities.

To date, organizations in Maine, Washington, Tennessee, Texas and Florida have received assistance allowing nearly 100 veterans and their families to have a new home.

In the next month, an additional $250,000 in grants will be announced. For more information about HAC’s work for veterans in rural areas, visit www.ruralhome.org/veterans or contact Janice Clark at Janice@ruralhome.org.

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

60 Minutes Profiles Nashville, while Dallas Convenes Landlords to Bring Veterans Home

Last night on 60 Minutes, the 100,000 Homes Campaign was profiled for their work with cities and other stakeholders across the country to change how we address homelessness. While Nashville was highlighted in the segment, other communities, such as Dallas, are also taking bold steps to bring together the necessary partners to ensure veterans and the chronically homeless have a place to call home.

In Nashville, the city provides the staff and capacity support for the How’s Nashville campaign. The campaign has brought the city together with the area housing authority, private landlords, the VA, and other service providers to prioritize people for housing based on how likely they are to die on the street. To accomplish this goal, housing units are paired with homeless individuals using resources such as Housing Choice Vouchers and HUD-VASH vouchers. The commitment of vouchers has been paired with philanthropic contributions of reduced rent apartments by private landlords. The need for partnerships with private landlords has been recognized as a key to success among stakeholders in Dallas as well.

Recently in Dallas, Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell joined representatives from the Mission Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Team, including officials from the Dallas Housing Authority and the regional VA and HUD offices for a landlord forum. Dozens of landlords attended the event to learn more about community efforts to end veteran homelessness and the need for landlords who are willing to accept veteran-specific (HUD-VASH) housing vouchers.

Assistant City Manager O’Donnell speaks with landlords and property managers at a forum about efforts to bring veterans home.

In April 2013, stakeholders from across the Dallas community came together at a homeless veteran boot-camp facilitated by the 100,000 Homes Campaign. During the 100 days following the boot camp, the team housed 130 homeless veterans. Since the boot-camp, a total of 515 veterans have been housed, with 62 percent being chronically homeless. This progress built upon a 25.9 percent drop in the number of homeless veterans in Dallas between 2011 and 2012. The 2013 Point-in-Time Count showed only 303 homeless veterans. With the 2014 Point-in-Time count recently conducted, the community will soon have more recent data to direct their efforts.

During the initial 100 days, team members worked with NLC and recognized that an obstacle to continued progress was a lack of landlords willing to accept HUD-VASH vouchers. To overcome this obstacle, NLC helped initiate discussions between the city and the team. With the support of team members and the city, NLC drafted a letter, which was signed by Mayor Mike Rawlings and sent to landlords and property managers already working with the city through other housing programs.

To further draw attention to the work and success of the team, Mayor Rawlings also recorded a public service announcement congratulating the team. The mayor used the PSA to urge the public to support the team’s efforts with donations to help with expenses not covered by programs serving veterans. In Nashville, these expenses have also been met by private contributions, but recently the city’s CDBG administrator also announced their commitment of up to $200,000 to help with costs such as rental deposits or utility fees.

With continued focus, both Dallas and Nashville are on pace to join Phoenix and Salt Lake City as a city that have ended chronic veteran homelessness. As each city reviewed their challenges and successes, the need for improving engagement with landlords was identified as a recurring need to help veterans and the chronically homeless find a home more quickly. Combined with an on-going use of data to drive decision-making, Dallas and Nashville are important illustrations of the success that is possible when local collaboration is joined with city leadership

Learn more here about the Mission DFW team.

To learn how you can best support efforts to end veteran homelessness in your city, contact me at harig-blaine@nlc.org.

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

What does the end of chronic veteran homelessness mean for cities?

Last month, Phoenix made the historic announcement that all of their chronically homeless veterans were off the streets. This amazing milestone is the result of collaboration between all parts of the community and the use of data to drive decisions and allocate resources. The accomplishment has sparked a national conversation about whether or not a city can end homelessness.

The success Phoenix has seen around chronically homeless veterans can serve as an example for other segments of the homeless population. As Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said while making his announcement last month, “The strategies that we’re using to end chronic homelessness among veterans are the exact same strategies that we’re going to use to end chronic homelessness among the broader population. This model – doing right by our veterans – is exactly how we’re going to do right by the larger population.”

The progress made in Phoenix does not mean that there are no more homeless in the city, or even that there are no more homeless veterans. Rather, it means that Phoenix has developed the necessary community structures or “social capital” to effectively and efficiently use resources to ensure persistently homeless veterans are no longer on the street. The development of these community structures can be built upon so that all chronically homeless veterans have a permanent home and are not simply off the street and in a shelter or transitional home.

People will always have unfortunate and tragic occurrences that push them over the edge from poverty into homelessness. However, as research has shown, it is difficult to determine why, for example, “John” becomes homeless while “Adam” does not, despite both being poor and facing similar situations.

People such as John will still need a safe place for a short period of time, like a shelter or transitional home. However, in communities with the proper coordination and the necessary resources, John will no longer become trapped in the cycle between shelter, transitional housing, and the streets. Instead, programs that can help rapidly re-house the homeless will be connected to emergency shelter locations and the service providers who administer other assistance programs. This network of collaborating housing providers can coordinate with healthcare providers, employment placement and training programs, educational opportunities, and more.

When done all at once, this process is so multi-faceted that it can become overwhelming. But what cities like Phoenix are showing is that progress can happen by initially focusing on a very specific subset of the homeless population, such as chronically homeless veterans. That progress is measurable. It saves lives and it saves money. This process has been described by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry as “the smart way to do the right thing.”

An argument can be made that poverty will always exist. But chronic street homelessness is more than just poverty. It is a combination of personal tragedy, societal failures, individual choices, and institutional shortcomings. The successes happening in Phoenix, Salt Lake, Philadelphia, Houston, Albuquerque, and other cities gives hope to the idea that chronic homelessness no longer needs to be seen as a permanent fixture of urban life.

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