The holiday decorations are put away, the resolutions have been made (maybe even broken by now?), and 2013 is underway. This is a critical year in our nation’s efforts to end veteran homelessness. In late 2009 and early 2010, the federal government rolled out their plan to end veteran homelessness by 2015. We are now more than half way through that timeline and if we are to achieve that goal, the involvement of elected officials and municipal staff is critical.
One of the more important actions that officials can take is using their positions to bring attention to what is happening to end homelessness and encouraging the public and private sectors to work together. As part of the annual homeless point-in-time count in Baltimore, Maryland, staff in the Mayor’s Office of Human Services are recruiting other city departments for volunteers, as well as asking for supplies such as pens, clipboards, flashlights, and safety vests. In addition, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is speaking at a community briefing to generate media coverage and raise awareness about efforts to count the homeless, as well as the ongoing efforts to end homelessness in the city.
To help cities begin each year with a renewed understanding of what they need to do to end homelessness in their area, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires communities that receive homeless assistance resources to determine critical baselines of information each January. First, communities much report how many units of housing and shelter space are available for people who are homeless. Second, a community-wide count of the homeless living in shelters as well as those living on the streets is required.
Nationally, this information is compiled and analyzed with the results coming out late in each calendar year. The report on 2012 was released last month and it showed that progress is being made. In a previous blog post, it was noted that homelessness among veterans has dropped 7.2% since January 2011 and by 17.2% since January 2009. This progress is good to see, but it is not enough. At this rate, we will have homeless veterans well beyond 2015.
All communities that receive homeless assistance resources are required to do an annual point-in-time count. However, a growing number of cities, including Baltimore, are integrating innovative strategies into their point-in-time count efforts to ensure that the homeless who are the most likely to die on the streets are the first in line to receive assistance such as housing vouchers. By using a vulnerability index to help prioritize those most in need while also doing their annual point-in-time count, cities are able to more effectively use the limited resources that are available and ensure those resources have the largest human and fiscal impact.
Using the vulnerability index fine-tunes a strategy known as “Housing First.” For years, research and anecdotal evidence has shown the benefits of addressing homelessness through the Housing First model. By placing people directly into housing with supportive services there are fewer homeless as well as larger financial savings. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mayor Richard J. Berry has called this strategy “the smart way of doing the right thing.” HUD is so supportive of this innovation that they have featured it in their quarterly publication Evidence Matters.
Back in Baltimore, Gabby Knighton, Outreach Coordinator for Homeless Service Programs says that “incorporating the vulnerability index into our annual point-in-time count is critical. This enables us to identify our chronic and most vulnerable homeless individuals so that we can connect them with permanent housing. By doing this, we are preventing people from dying on the streets and keeping people from rotating through our courts, jails, and emergency rooms, consuming valuable public resources.”
As a city leader, you can do something to help.
Help raise awareness about efforts already underway in your city. Is your city engaged with the 100,000 Homes Campaign and using tools like the vulnerability index? Find out by seeing what cities are engaged, and contact the Campaign to find out how they can help your own city’s work.
We can do this, but it will take more than wishful thinking and good intentions. It requires action.
So add one more item to your list of resolutions. Resolve to make 2013 the year your city made the most progress yet toward ending homelessness.