5 Issues President Obama Needs to Address in the State of the Union

President Obama is expected to make economic inequality a major component of his State of the Union Tuesday night, addressing what recent headlines and research have concluded is a threat to the future prosperity of our country. Consistently stagnant levels of economic mobility further underscores the president’s need to address this issue, as the ability to climb the income ladder has always been the critical fuel for American prosperity and ingenuity.

In communities across the country, local leaders witness the fallout from the persistent lack of economic mobility and the stain it leaves on the great economic engine that is our nation’s cities. City leaders see entire neighborhoods of children and families cut off from essential resources that make the American Dream possible. In his address, cities need the president to talk about economic opportunity comprehensively with a plan that breaks down the barriers impeding mobility and respects the role of local government in creating solutions.

Here are 5 issues cities need the president to address:

1. Education


Mayors and local elected officials have a strong interest in education as a tool to drive economic opportunity and to provide students with the skills needed to compete in regional, national and global economies. Cities need certainty in federal policy at a time when states and local governments struggle with allocating scarce education resources. America’s local elected officials need the president to encourage Congress to pass legislation that allows for more local innovation in education, instead of focusing on process and compliance.

2. Immigration


Our broken immigration system holds back economic growth by keeping a substantial population from fully participating as citizens of our country. The current system tears families apart, fosters cultural misunderstandings and develops mistrust of law enforcement by immigrant communities.  Cities call on President Obama to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year that includes resources cities need to integrate immigrants fully into their communities.

3. Transportation


Far too many in this country face a transportation infrastructure that is woefully inadequate and limits their ability to access meaningful work, sustenance and public services. City leaders know that the creation of an efficient transportation system that provides for its community’s needs will positively influence patterns of growth and economic activity that lift all boats. Cities need the president to articulate the importance of transportation in promoting economic opportunity and acknowledge local government’s role in the transportation reauthorization debate.

4. Marketplace Fairness


During these difficult economic times, cities urge the president to support quick adoption of Marketplace Fairness Act, which puts Main Street retailers on an equal footing with their online counterparts. The bill grants states and municipalities the authority to collect sales taxes on remote sales, removing another obstacle from Washington that limits local government’s ability to do what is best for their community.

5. Resilient Communities


Cities understand that climate change is an incredibly important issue that affects communities in all corners of the nation. The distribution of impacts, however, is often unequal and tilted against communities that have a limited capacity to anticipate and mitigate the effects of increasing disasters. Cities call on the president to acknowledge building more resilient communities will require coordinated regional, state and federal efforts. Local leaders need President Obama to continue to push for stronger federal support of local initiatives aimed at advancing the resilience of America’s cities and towns.

Community Partners Support Baltimore Neighborhood Growth

What makes a great neighborhood? Why do millennials for example, or any other demographic subgroup, choose one city over another or one neighborhood over another? Several factors that are consistent across many research studies include affordable housing, safe and walkable streets, access to employment and mobility networks, options for entertainment and recreation, and the often intangible characteristic known as buzz.

Baltimore_SIBaltimore city leaders have set a goal to attract 10,000 new families (some 22,000 individuals) by 2021. In addition to place-based strategies targeting downtown and neighborhoods, the city is seeking young knowledge workers and demonstrating its openness to immigrants. Extensive investments in education and new school construction are designed to lure families with children. Similar to other cities, it is the character of neighborhoods – solid housing stock, parks and open space, proximity to jobs and entertainment – that will have a significant influence on whether or not Baltimore can achieve ambitious growth goals.

A diverse set of partnerships lie at the heart of efforts in the City of Baltimore to revitalize neighborhoods, grow population, and support community prosperity. The coalitions across the city draw expertise and support from philanthropies, real estate developers, educational institutions, church congregations, community development stakeholders, business owners, housing advocates, and city officials. “Big tent” mobilizations are emphasized.  Whether in East, Central, or West Baltimore, partnerships focus on holistic approaches that address challenges of housing, neighborhood stability and vitality, human capital development, commercial improvement, and grass roots empowerment.

The city government does not lack for allies.  Among the most prominent (detailed in a related NLC case study) are: Southeast Community Development Corporation (SECDC); East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI); Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP); BRIDGE Maryland; and the University of Maryland BioPark at the West Baltimore medical center campus.

There is considerable room for optimism in Baltimore. Driving around the city, whether in Hampden or along Charles Street, or the revitalized 36th Street commercial corridor, there are reminders that the city has good bones. Its iconic buildings, broad avenues, and promising neighborhoods constitute a firm foundation for prosperity and growth. Although challenges remain, the community partnerships are a formidable force for positive change in Baltimore.

Brooks, J.A. 2010
About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

A Term of Recurring Themes

Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

If you follow the Supreme Court’s docket, one theme from this term is unmistakable:  patent cases.  The Court has taken at least five patent cases (out of less than 70).  But patents don’t worry the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC).  Qualified immunity and protesters do.  And the Court has been immersed in both of these issues too.

Earlier this month the SLLC filed an amicus brief in a qualified immunity case involving deadly force, which NLC signed onto.  Earlier in the term the SLLC filed an amicus brief in a case involving a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics adopted by the Massachusetts legislature to keep protesters from crowding, which NLC also signed onto.  Now the themes of qualified immunity and protesters collide in Wood v. Moss.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case, which again, NLC joined.

In this case, the Court will decide whether Secret Service agents engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when they moved anti-Bush protesters about one block further from the President than pro-Bush demonstrators.  The Court also will decide whether the lower court evaluated the viewpoint discrimination claim at too high a level of generality when determining whether the agents should have been granted qualified immunity.

Pro- and anti-President Bush demonstrators had equal access to the President as his motorcade arrived in Jacksonville, Oregon.  But when the President made an unexpected stop for dinner at the Jacksonville Inn’s outdoor patio, Secret Service agents, assisted by state and local police officers, moved the anti-Bush protesters, who were closer to the restaurant than the pro-Bush demonstrators, about one block further from the President than the pro-Bush demonstrators.

The anti-Bush protesters sued two Secret Service agents claiming their First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination had been violated.  The Ninth Circuit denied the agents qualified immunity.  Government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

The Supreme Court will decide whether the lower court evaluated the qualified immunity question in this case too generally.  The Ninth Circuit focused on its conclusion that the agents engaged in viewpoint discrimination instead of whether it was clearly established that the anti-Bush protesters could not be moved further away from the President than the pro-Bush demonstrators.  The Court also will decide whether the anti-Bush protesters have adequately claimed viewpoint discrimination when there was an obvious security-based rationale for moving them:  they were closer to the President.

The SLLC’s amicus brief encourages the Court to tour downtown Jacksonville using Google Maps Street View.  What the Justices will discover is that there is a parking lot adjacent to the Jacksonville Inn’s outdoor patio which the anti-Bush protesters would have had direct access to had they not been moved a block away.  Pro-Bush demonstrators had no direct access to the Inn where they were gathered because the side of the Inn they were facing was totally blocked by another building.

The SLLC’s brief also argues that when the safety of the President is at stake, police may consider the content of speech.  Finally, the brief argues that the lower court evaluated the qualified immunity question in this case without consideration of the facts, so, too generally.

Oral argument will be March 26.  The Court will issue an opinion by the end of June.

Innovation Districts Create New Urban Spaces for Creativity and Growth

This post also appears on CityMinded’s blog.

District Hall, Boston Innovation District. Photo by: Gustav Hoiland/Flagship Photo.

District Hall, Boston Innovation District. Photo by: Gustav Hoiland/Flagship Photo.

Cities incubate creativity and serve as labs for innovative ideas and policies. One such idea arising more and more is the innovation district. These districts are creative, energy-laden ecosystems with a focus on building partnerships across sectors. Innovation districts attract entrepreneurs, established companies, and leaders in all walks of life, and provide them with the space to create unexpected relationships and find transformative solutions.

Innovation district growth in cities as far afield as Boston, Las Vegas, and Barcelona belies their success in reflecting our ever-more complex world, which demands increased collaboration to understand the latest trends, let alone address problems with solutions that are more and more frequently found at the boundaries between different fields. In short, Innovation Districts are places designed to bridge gaps between fields and make unusual collaboration more likely to happen.

Bruce Katz of the Brookings Metropolitan Center has been exploring the growth of these districts and the increasing impact they are having on wider metropolitan economies: “This new model — the Innovation District — clusters leading-edge anchor institutions and cutting-edge innovative firms, connecting them with supporting and spin-off companies, business incubators, mixed-use housing, office, retail and 21st century urban amenities.”

In the American Institute of Architects report I co-authored while with the AIA, Cities as a Lab: Designing the Innovation Economy, we examined the key role that innovation districts are beginning to play in cities. Design, ideas, and proximity are being used as significant assets in turning our cities into “innovation labs,” transforming spaces and fostering connections in imaginative new ways. These high performance districts can animate a brighter future and attract funding and investment, enterprises and entrepreneurs, all while serving as a platform for rapid change.

A key example of this can be seen in Boston. Boston’s Innovation District demonstrates what can happen with strong civic leadership, long-range planning, and pioneering designers collaborating toward a shared vision. The once derelict wharves along the Boston waterfront have been transformed into a multidisciplinary hub for innovation and manufacturing, attracting 200 companies and over 4,000 jobs.

Boston’s former Mayor Thomas Menino launched the Boston Innovation District (I/D) with his 2010 inaugural address, and captured the impetus for its creation when he said, “Our mandate to all will be to invent a 21st Century district that meets the needs of the innovators who live and work in Boston—to create a job magnet, an urban lab on our shore, and to harvest its lessons for the city.”

Now here we are in 2014, and his vision is transforming 1,000 acres of the South Boston waterfront into a unique live-work-play innovation community. Over ten million square feet of space has already been developed in the district, with 20 million more square feet planned.

Having first written about this project back in late 2012 it is astounding to see how it has taken off to the point where the ongoing success of the I/D is now leading to rapidly increasing rents that are pushing some of the early companies out. Rents have soaredto near parity with the Back Bay, the most expensive office district in Boston, rising 43 percent in just a few short years.

Within this district a new innovation infrastructure has been created, which includes numerous accelerators and co-working facilities, new types of housing, and America’s first public innovation center in a connected urban community, District Hall. This recently opened 12,000-square-foot, experimental community hub supports events, exhibitions, and meetings that have no niche elsewhere in the innovation market.

Among the companies that have located in the Innovation District, 40% share offices in co-working spaces and incubators, 25 percent have 10 employees or less, and 11 percent are in the education and non-profit sectors. Of the jobs created, 30 percent of the recent expansion comes from technology companies, 21 percent are in creative industries like advertising and design, and 16 percent come from green technology and life sciences.

Translating best practices from cities like Boston to other places throughout the country is imperative. The Michigan Municipal League is doing just this by examining the importance of innovation districts as targeted hyper-local placemaking. Looking at districts in Pittsburgh, Boston, Portland, Toronto, and Barcelona they have identified key best practices that successful districts consistently demonstrate.

There must be a catalyst, generally in the form of a mayor or other local champion, like former Mayor Menino in Boston. The inclusion of entrepreneurs as well as strong partnerships with universities and the philanthropic community are paramount. Infrastructure development, public investment, and distinct financing tools, as well as housing options and open space round out the key features that help define innovation district success.

Through incubating ideas, working collaboratively across sectors, and thinking beyond physical boundaries, innovation districts are thriving and creating ongoing opportunities for cities. By no means is it an easy process, but these districts help pave the way for future experimentation in cities across the country by creating the eco-systems that attract talent and help our cities thrive.

Rainwater Headshot
Brooks Rainwater is the Director of City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Let’s All Climb to the Mountaintop: NLC Commemorates the Birthday of Dr. King


Today, we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who would be 85 years old if he were still alive today.  Across the country, businesses, governments, and schools are closed to allow people to celebrate the memory of one of history’s most important figures.

Dr. King is a towering figure whose commitment to civil rights, nonviolence, and alleviating poverty and inequality was unwavering and inspiring, both to those who were alive during the civil rights movement and to all of us who have benefited from his legacy. He believed that all Americans no matter their race, creed, or national origin should be provided the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

Although I was only a young child in the 1960s, throughout my childhood I remember being mesmerized by his speeches on television, by the dignity and humility his booming voice conveyed through the tiny screen.  My family and I were in awe of the faith Dr. King put in nonviolence, even when in Mississippi, Alabama, and elsewhere young black children were being hosed with water cannons, black houses of worship were being bombed and torched, and civil rights activists were being persecuted and even killed because of their commitment to equal rights. Not to mention the constant threats to his own life that he received.

While these acts are not occurring in our cities in America today, other important challenges exist that our city leaders must address to give citizens a stronger sense of community and let them know that opportunities to achieve the American Dream are still there for the taking.

It’s also important to remember the emphasis Dr. King placed on breaking down barriers to economic equality for all, which is surely an issue he would want us to focus on as we celebrate the anniversary of his birthday. Dr. King would no doubt applaud President Obama’s recent declaration that economic inequality is the “defining issue of our time.”

Now, in the midst of a slow but hopeful national economic recovery, we are still faced with widespread inequality. A recent post in the New York Times’ Economix blog talks about the connection between inequality and poverty, and discusses inequality’s poverty-inducing impacts. “We’re baking a smaller economic pie and cutting less equal slices,” author Jared Bernstein notes.

Shortly before his death, Dr. King devoted much of his work to raising national awareness of poverty and inequality by mounting the Poor People’s Campaign, which advocated for affordable housing and increased access to jobs for low-income people of all races.  This work continues today in cities across the country, many of which are taking tangible steps to reduce inequality.

I leave you with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech, “I Have Been to the Mountaintop,” given in support of striking sanitation workers in the City of Memphis. It’s one of his most sweeping and memorable speeches, and one that directly addresses economic injustice and the need for economic equality.

Be moved. Be inspired.  And honor his legacy by volunteering in your community and helping others not just today, but as often as you can.

clarence-anthony-hsAbout the Author: Clarence Anthony is the Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow Clarence on Twitter at @ceanthony50.

Will President Obama Keep His Promise?

Nearly a year after putting forth the idea in his 2013 State of the Union address, last Thursday President Obama officially announced the Administration’s first five “Promise Zones.”


In last year’s State of the Union, President Obama addressed the topic of economic mobility – or the ability to get ahead in life – with a resolve not previously heard in the run-up to his second term election.  He spoke of several measures that his Administration believes will “build new ladders of opportunity” to “a rising, thriving middle class” big enough to fit any individual willing to strive for it.

“There are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it is virtually impossible to get ahead,” Obama said. “Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. “

President Obama was referring to communities in some of our country’s most prolific cities – cities that were symbols of the economic mobility that defined the American Dream in the 20th century, but have since witnessed that dream stagnated by lost jobs, economic segregation, disinvestment, and poor performing schools.

According to a recent study, 43 percent of Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent never make it to the middle.  “It’s a trend,” said Patrick Sharkley, Professor of Sociology at NYU, “that makes us think that cities will become less of an engine for economic mobility if they keep trending toward a scenario where the rich live in separate communities from the poor.”

The recently announced Promise Zones initiative is a key component of Obama’s plan to reverse these trends. The initiative relies on partnerships with local community leaders and other stakeholders to address the challenges preventing people from climbing the ladder of economic prosperity.

This interagency effort involving the U.S.  Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Agriculture aims to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety.

Three of the first five Promise Zones selected are located in major US cities – San Antonio, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles – in addition to Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Each has put forward a plan on how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity. In exchange, Promise Zones designees will receive resources from the federal government that will support their plans to achieve positive outcomes.

The Administration’s Promise Zones strategy is an important acknowledgement that the fight to restore the American Dream must ultimately be local in its orientation and development. After all, it’s our community leaders who have a very real and daily understanding of the inherently local dynamics of economic segregation and exclusion.

It’s this philosophy that underpins the mission of the National League of Cities and the work we do in communities, the work we do to support local leadership, and what we advocate for on Capitol Hill. We believe our country’s most intractable issues must be addressed by policies that are locally informed and driven, supported by a resourceful and resolute federal government, with a commitment to achieving real, tangible results.

This “promise” to our communities from the Obama Administration is a great sign of hope. America’s cities, as our country’s driver of growth and innovation, will be committed partners in ensuring that every person has the chance at achieving the American Dream.

To learn about NLC’s work to provide pathways out of poverty in America’s cities, visit our Institute for Youth, Education and Families webpages.

Collaboration Key to Providing Pathways to Employment


More than 82% of U.S. manufacturers say they are having trouble finding the skilled labor they need to fill tens of thousands of jobs.  As reported by CNBC today, this is the situation that a St. Paul textile manufacturer found itself in two years ago after demand started to rise for their American-made products.

Since 1904, J.W. Hume has manufactured its products in the U.S. even while most apparel and textile firms were sending their work to overseas labor markets. Despite their commitment to the American workforce, decreased industry demand for skilled sewers over the years resulted in two generations of workers who didn’t have the skills to fill available positions at the company.

Determined to fix the problem, former CEO Jen Guarino reached out to local community colleges and other manufactures to find a solution and equip American students with the skills to fill available positions. Their collaborative effort resulted in a six-month training program run by Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis designed to teach students how to use industrial cutters, steamers and factory sewing machines to fabricate garments, purses, satchels, bedding and other products. Since its launch, the Dunwoody program has had a 90% placement rate and graduates earn on average $13.46 an hour.

Over the past few years, city leaders have taken concerted efforts to launch initiatives that produce the type of results that are being seen in the Twin Cities. New, multi-sector collaborations are being created to dramatically increase the proportion of residents in their communities who obtain a postsecondary degree and credential and go on to successful full-time employment.

Through their power to convene and set the agenda, local officials are able to effectively scale up efforts by individual stakeholders by bringing together leaders from community and technical colleges, public and private universities, school districts, community organizations, workforce boards and chambers of commerce to develop a more coordinated strategy to provide students with the supports and services they need to attain employable skills.

Through initiatives such as Municipal Leadership for Postsecondary Success, supported by the Lumina Foundation, and Communities Learning in Partnership, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NLC has supported the work of mayors and other local leaders to boost postsecondary graduation rates by better coordinating the services that colleges, schools and cities provide to students.

As postsecondary education and workforce development gain prominence as drivers of economic growth, policy reformers and industry alike increasingly turn to mayors to make the necessary connections between institutions of learning and the marketplace.

To learn more about how your city can get started or improve efforts underway to equip students with in demand skills, visit NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Postsecondary Success resource page. You can watch the entire CNBC segment on their website.

NLC Supports Arkansas League before the Supreme Court

Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

To have a case before the United States Supreme Court is quite an honor for most lawyers, and Michael Mosley is no exception. On March 4th, Arkansas Municipal League Attorney Michael Mosley will argue a case that he has been working on for almost a decade before the nine Justices. In the case, Plumhoff v. Rickard, the Supreme Court will decide whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity for the use of deadly force in a high speed chase. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief, which NLC joined.

A quick refresher on qualified immunity: state and local government officials can be sued for financial damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.” Qualified immunity is intended to protect “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”

In July 2004, police officers shot and killed Donald Rickard and his passenger after Rickard led police on a high-speed chase. Their families sought money damages claiming the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by using excessive force. The officers argued they should be granted qualified immunity because their use of force wasn’t prohibited by clearly established law.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the Sixth Circuit properly denied qualified immunity by distinguishing this case, which arose in 2004, from a 2007 Supreme Court decision. The Court also will decide whether qualified immunity should be denied based on the facts of this case. Rickard wove through traffic on an interstate connecting two states, collided with police vehicles twice and used his vehicle to escape after being surrounded by police officers, nearly hitting at least one officer.

Mosley, who is representing the police officers, expressed hope that “the Supreme Court will rule that my clients’ conduct was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

The SLLC’s brief argues that the Supreme Court should rule as follows: officers retain qualified immunity from Fourth Amendment force claims so long as it is arguable, on the historical facts most favorable to the plaintiff, that the force was reasonable. In evaluating immunity, a court must adopt the inferences that a reasonable officer could arguably draw from the facts, regardless of whether those inferences are factual or legal. It is a legal question whether—based on the historical facts, the inferences an officer could arguably draw from them, and clearly established law—only a plainly incompetent officer could conclude that force was reasonable.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the United States Conference of Mayors and the International Municipal Lawyers Association also signed onto the SLLC’s brief.

The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in this case by June 30, 2014.

The War on Poverty: A Winding Road to Progress

610px-Signing_of_the_EOAFifty years ago this month, President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America” in his State of the Union address. In that speech he introduced legislation to bolster educational opportunities, employment, health care, and housing for all, particularly the most vulnerable among us.

The War on Poverty would dramatically expand the federal government’s role in reducing poverty.  As those of us who have been around long enough can attest, this “war” has had a measurable impact, particularly in America’s cities. The War on Poverty led to the creation of programs that are now a familiar part of the political, economic, and social landscape of this country – programs such as Head Start, food stamps (now SNAP), and even Medicare and Medicaid. Although these programs have endured their share of controversy and debate about their efficacy over the years, recent studies have shown that these programs have played a significant role in reducing poverty in America’s cities, where the majority of the country’s low-income population has historically been concentrated.

Unfortunately, poverty is a complex animal, and problems still persist. Although the White House claims that poverty has dropped from nearly 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012, President Obama recently described economic inequality “as the defining challenge of our time” that “drives everything I do in office.”

Today, we need action on this issue at all levels of government. But for better or worse, the federal government has been shrinking over the last few decades – not just in terms of jobs but also in funding for discretionary programs such as Johnson’s anti-poverty programs and those that have come after.

So where does that leave cities? As usual, cities have taken the lead on reducing poverty and economic inequality and continue to implement a variety of programs that benefit low-income residents despite years of federal budget cuts.  Examples abound in cities across the country, including St. Paul, MN and San Antonio, TX.

Today, we need that same sense of urgency in addressing poverty that politicians and citizens alike felt 50 years ago. We need more investment in the very basic social programs that help ensure opportunity for all, programs that were the core of the War on Poverty – adequate education, health care, and job training. Policymakers at all levels of government should examine how their decisions impact the economic wellbeing of residents at all income levels. As we noted in our recent 10 Critical Imperatives Facing Cities report, despite recent economic gains, our middle class is shrinking.

Let’s use the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty to reflect on how effective government can be when elected officials work together in a bipartisan fashion to strengthen and expand the working- and middle-class, and to ask if we are doing all we can today to make sure our priorities are being heard in Washington.

About the Author: Clarence Anthony is the Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow Clarence on Twitter at @ceanthony50.

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.

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