This National Tragedy is Ending and Cities Are Leading the Way

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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.

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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.