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.

This National Tragedy is Ending and Cities Are Leading the Way

This post also appears on the blog of The Home Depot Foundation.

Last week in Seattle, NLC held its annual Congress of Cities and Exposition. More than 3,500 participants gathered to learn about the dynamic ways cities are driving change and finding solutions to the most pressing challenges facing local government. Among these challenges is the issue of homelessness, especially the disgrace of veteran homelessness. At multiple points over the conference, local leaders came together to discuss what is happening in cities across the country and hear from colleagues and others about the progress being made to ensure all veterans have a place to call home.

Of particular note is the recent announcement by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker that his community is on pace to end chronic veteran homelessness in the coming months. Before NLC’s Large Cities Council and during a Veteran Homelessness Roundtable, Mayor Becker discussed the collaborative efforts being made between the city, non-profits, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and others to identify homeless veterans and ensure they receive the services that can best meet their needs.

Fred Wacker, Mayor Becker and Becky Kanis talk about the progress being made in Salt Lake City after the Veteran Homelessness Roundtable at NLC’s Congress of Cities and Exposition.

Fred Wacker, Mayor Becker and Becky Kanis talk about the progress being made in Salt Lake City after the Veteran Homelessness Roundtable at NLC’s Congress of Cities and Exposition.

During the roundtable, participants also heard from Vince Kane of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans. Mr. Kane outlined resources available to end veteran homelessness, including HUD-VA Supportive Housing vouchers (HUD-VASH) and the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program (SSVF). In addition, Mr. Kane spoke about a new 25 Cities Initiative that will soon be underway to bring the communities in line with the national goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

Joining Mr. Kane at the roundtable was Becky Kanis, Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Ms. Kanis spoke about key strategies that communities are using to place homeless veterans in housing. These strategies include knowing homeless veterans by name, utilizing a vulnerability index to prioritize people for housing based on their likelihood of dying on the street, identifying duplicative processes, building community consensus around housing first models and leveraging Medicaid and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) resources in support of veterans and the chronically homeless.

Fred Wacker, Chief Operating Officer of The Home Depot Foundation, was another roundtable speaker. Mr. Wacker discussed the Foundation’s continued commitment to support the construction and rehabilitation of housing for veterans. The Foundation’s on-going efforts were also discussed at the meeting of NLC’s Military Communities Council.

In another conference session regarding successful reintegration of veterans, attendees heard from Tacoma, Washington Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Mayor Strickland spoke about the citys support of collaborative efforts between the local VA office and medical center with local non-profits and the State of Washington’s Department of Veteran Services. City actions included inserting a preference for veterans in a recent round of funding for multifamily housing rehabilitation projects and partnering with county and state officials to encourage the Washington State Housing Finance Commission to collect data on veterans being served by projects receiving allocations of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs).

In addition to these events, conference attendees helped assemble hundreds of personal care kits to be sent to service men and women as a part of NLC’s on-going partnership with Good360. Also, NLC members involved with the Women in Municipal Government constituency group and the Community and Economic Development Policy Committee received an update about on-going work related to veteran homelessness.

With the federal government’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015 fast approaching, the leadership of local elected officials is more important than ever. In a growing number of cities, local leaders are joining with non-profits, businesses, philanthropies, faith communities, and state and federal partners to end what was once thought to be an unsolvable problem. The efforts to build collaborative relationships are a lasting way to honor our veterans and strengthen cities.

For more information about how cities are helping ensure all veterans have a place to call home and how NLC can support local efforts, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine at harig-blaine@nlc.org or visit www.nlc.org/veteranhousing.

Elisha_blog

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

The Homeless Veteran Outside NLC

Earlier this week as I approached the steps of our building, I noticed a man sitting against newspaper stands with a white cardboard sign that simply read “homeless vet.” Out of habit, I kept walking.  After less than 10 feet though, I was struck by what I knew was my obligation to honor his sacrifice by making sure he got the help he needed.

Rob was an infantryman in the Army. Served in Afghanistan. Honorably discharged five months ago. He came home to a changed marriage that quickly ended in divorce and resulted in him losing his house. His savings kept him off the street for a few months, but eventually that money ran out. Now he’s here in our nation’s capital being briskly walked by and getting the occasional dollar and change from someone who had just bought a coffee at the Starbucks he sat across from.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks with Kelly Caffarelli, President of The Home Depot Foundation and Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities at the launch of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks with Kelly Caffarelli, President of The Home Depot Foundation and Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities at the launch of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign.

Fortunately, Washington, D.C.  is one of the many cities that today have HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Support Housing) vouchers. There are also several non-profits administering the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). Since Rob is not “chronically” homeless, it is likely that with a relatively small amount of assistance and perhaps some job training, he could quickly be self-sufficient once again. This is the exact purpose of the SSVF program. Fortunately, with one phone call Rob was connected with Friendship Place, a service provider who collaborates with other stakeholders in the community to ensure veterans like Rob receive assistance from the right programs for their needs.

Today, many communities are stepping forward to ensure the resources in their city are being directed to those who need them most. One such city is Salt Lake City. Recently, Mayor Ralph Becker proclaimed November to be Veterans Housing Month. In the coming weeks, it is anticipated that Salt Lake City could become the first city to house all of their chronically homeless veterans.

Not to be outdone though, the City of Phoenix will hold a press conference on Veterans Day to discuss how they have reduced chronic veteran homelessness by 62 percent in just two years. Mayor Greg Stanton and other community leaders will outline how the city will house the remaining 56 unsheltered veterans in the coming weeks.

These cities illustrate what is possible when political leadership and community collaboration combine to provide the proper level of resources and work to implement data-driven strategies.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan noted the examples of Phoenix and Salt Lake City during his remarks at the National Alliance to End Homelessness – Never Another Homeless Veteran event earlier this week. NLC is a proud partner of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign and urges everyone to sign the statement committing to ending veteran homelessness today. Leadership committee members of the campaign include President George H.W. Bush, former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and Colin Powell, former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, The Home Depot Foundation, and many more.

At our Congress of Cities and Exposition in Seattle next week, Mayor Becker and Mayor Stanton will join Vince Kane, Director of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, and Becky Kanis, Campaign Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign to discuss how more cities can join Salt Lake and Phoenix in their race to getting to zero chronically homeless veterans.

In an era of tight budgets and partisan politics, providing an unprecedented level of resources for our veterans has received broad bipartisan support. But this support must be met with decisive actions on the ground. Local leaders can be the difference between success and failure. Veterans Day parades are nice, but making sure all veterans and their families have a place to call home is a more lasting way of showing our appreciation for their commitment and sacrifice.

Elisha_blog

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

Cities Make Progress Toward Ending Veteran Homelessness; More Cities Join the Effort

Last week in Los Angeles, the 100,000 Homes Campaign sponsored the latest Veteran’s Boot Camp that brought together stakeholders from communities in Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and California. The event comes in the wake of progress being reported by cities who participated in an earlier boot camp held in Tampa, Florida in April.

This latest “Veteran’s Boot Camp” included representatives from Portland, OR; Tucson, AZ; Seattle/King County; and California communities including Riverside; San Francisco; San Bernardino; Orange County; and Sonoma County. One of the first steps these communities took was to assess the number of veterans they need to place in housing to end veteran homelessness by December 2015. This process included reviewing data from multiple sources. The participants worked together to agree upon an estimate since none of the sources provide identical figures.

Recognizing the challenges that come from starting with imperfect data, Melanie Zamora from The Road Home in Salt Lake City, Utah spoke at the Boot Camp about what their community has done. “We weren’t willing to let our inability to reconcile our data get in the way of our work to identify those in need and prioritize them for services,” said Ms. Zamora. To overcome this, the partners in Salt Lake City began regular meetings to identify the clients in need, come to agreement about what clients should be prioritized, and determine what resources were available in the community to meet the clients’ needs.

After figuring out how to work with imperfect data, identifying and knowing their homeless population by name, and establishing regular meetings, city, county, and state officials worked to create a uniform reporting process for organizations using federal Emergency Shelter Grant resources. These resources were primarily being used to fund rapid re-housing efforts, and the uniform reporting reduced administrative time and costs associated with their use. As a result, since February, Salt Lake City has been placing the homeless into housing at a rate that puts the city on a path to end veteran and chronic homelessness by the end of 2015.

In April, communities in Texas and Florida came together to develop action plans for ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.  Many of the communities that participated in the first Veteran’s Boot Camp in Tampa have made progress, including:

  • In Houston/Harris County, TX, over 100 people have housing vouchers in-hand and are actively searching for housing. They also had a successful registry event to get to know homeless individuals by name, and are working to combine data lists to clarify numbers across the community.
  • In Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, the Dallas Housing Authority made 47 HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers available to veterans. In addition, the team will hold a media event on June 20 to kick-off a campaign to raise $100,000.
  • In the central Texas region around Austin and Waco, stakeholders are working to implement a coordinated assessment and create a better process between the VA and housing providers. The VA is working to decrease length of time it takes for veterans to get into housing using HUD-VASH vouchers.
  • In Lee County, Florida, 20 veterans have been housed, and five of those housed have increased their income. In addition, the Public Housing Authority has formed a committee to grow the number of landlords they are working with.
  • In Sarasota/Manatee, Florida, the team has added seven new landlords to their list for a total of 25 participating landlords. The team is also working with VetCorp to reach the goal of ending homelessness.
  • In Tampa, Florida, they are streamlining their eligibility screening process for various programs by stationing an outreach person at the local health clinic. In addition, the Housing Authority has also pre-inspected 30 units to streamline the lease-up and move-in process.

Overall, the 100,000 Homes Campaign has a goal of housing 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless, and in the last month the campaign formally crossed the halfway point. To date, teams in 196 communities have successfully housed 51,438 of the most vulnerable homeless, including 15,679 veterans.

In cities across the country, progress is being made by stakeholders who have come together to end the national tragedy of veteran homelessness. Albuquerque, New Mexico Mayor Richard Berry has called this work “the smart way to do the right thing.” Local leaders can use their platform to raise the profile of this work in their community, forge partnerships with other municipalities and levels of government to better leverage resources, help bring missing stakeholders to the table, and more. In many cities, the involvement of local leaders makes the difference between some success and great success. Ending homelessness among veterans is an issue that should unite everyone. Our veterans deserve no less.

To learn how NLC can support work in your community to end veteran homelessness, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine, NLC’s Senior Housing Associate at harig-blaine@nlc.org.