Yesterday, formerly homeless veterans shared stories of their time on the streets and the life-changing moments that resulted in them now having a home. These women and men represent only a few of the more than 350,000 veterans and families who have been housed as a result of efforts in communities across the country. Nationally, since 2010, veteran homelessness has declined 47 percent.
The success of each of these veterans is due to a combination of personal courage and leadership from city officials to improve the coordination of resources from federal, state, and local government, as well as community and national non-profits.
During the event, participants of the Mayors Challenge shared examples of the progress happening in their communities, but also spoke candidly about remaining challenges.
Specifically, Mayor Byron Brown of Buffalo, New York emphasized the importance of working with surrounding communities to create regional solutions that can help homeless veterans who regularly move throughout the area across municipal lines.
Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse, New York highlighted the proactive role that law enforcement can play in identifying homeless veterans and connecting them to available resources.
President of the Calvert County Commission (Maryland), Steven Weems, discussed the role elected officials can play in engaging local businesses to help connect veterans to employment opportunities after they become housed.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, of New Orleans, Louisiana shared about the progress his community saw thanks to a dedicated staff person in the mayor’s office engaging with stakeholders to create accountability for developing cross-sector collaborations.
Mayor Charlie Hales of Portland, Oregon noted the important role of raising awareness and engagement among area landlords to provide housing for homeless veterans. The critical nature of work on this issue was underscored by representatives from New York City, which has reduced veteran homelessness 64 percent in the last year alone.
The lack of affordable housing in cities was a challenge consistently raised by many attendees.
What Does the End of Veteran Homelessness Look Like?
Since launching the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in June 2014, 35 communities and three states have been certified as having met federally developed criteria and benchmarks for achieving the Mayors Challenge.
One community is the Gulf Coast region of Mississippi.
Critical to the success on the Gulf Coast has been the use of collaboratively agreed upon data measurements.
Community partners from the area’s Continuum of Care worked closely with local staff of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to agree on the number of veterans that needed to be housed. Based on their analysis of client assessments and outreach data, the community agreed they needed to house 268 veterans.
With an agreed upon number, partners set out to develop a by-name list of homeless veterans. Along with the names of each veteran, information on individual needs was determined using a common assessment tool to help prioritize people for service rather than a continuing a first come, first serve approach.
The use of these best practices was strengthened by the support of local elected officials who are part of the Mayors Challenge, such as Mayor Johnny DuPree of Hattiesburg, Mayor Billy Hewes of Gulfport, and Mayor A.J. Holloway of Biloxi.
These local leaders and others called upon the community to step forward and help identify landlords through churches, veteran service organizations, property management associations, and civic associations. To help house veterans, landlords reduced rents and provided furnished units.
Other area businesses also came together to ensure temporary and permanent housing was ready for veterans.
As part of efforts in Hattiesburg, associates of The Home Depot volunteered as part of Team Depot to repair facilities on the Oak Arbor campus.
Situated on 45 acres, the campus is made up of a large building that is nearly 20 years old with 54 dormitory style bedrooms, common living areas, workout room, laundry, kitchen, cafeteria, and staff offices. In addition, there are 12 two-bedroom apartments reserved for veterans and two small group homes providing 13 beds for female veterans.
Earlier this year, The Home Depot Foundation re-affirmed their commitment to veterans by pledging a quarter-billion dollars for veteran-related causes by 2020. Since 2011, The Home Depot has improved more than 26,700 veteran homes and 6,900 veteran facilities in more than 2,000 cities across the country.
The collective impact of these partnerships on the Gulf Coast resulted in 276 veterans being housed in 2015. Today only four veterans are on the area’s by-name list. Once identified, veterans are housed, on average, in 11 days. During that time, temporary housing and shelter comes from the faith community and locations such as the Oak Arbor campus.
Community Solutions is a key national partner supporting the Gulf Coast region’s efforts.
Sustaining the Progress
As the Trump Administration transitions into office, maintaining the unprecedented momentum seen on veteran homelessness is critical. The Mayors Challenge is a permanent commitment to ensure homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring, beginning with veterans.
To help maintain the Mayors Challenge, the National League of Cities is working closely with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, and Community Solutions.
Each of these organizations has resources on best practices from their work with partners across the country that can help participants of the Mayors Challenge meet the goal of ending veteran homelessness.
To learn how NLC can help your city, Frequently Asked Questions, case studies, and information on how to find local stakeholders currently working on veteran homelessness, visit www.nlc.org/mayorschallenge.
The work of the Mayors Challenge requires persistent leadership, but communities across the country are showing the progress that can be made.
“This issue has nothing to do with whether you are a Democrat, a Republican or an independent. It is so much bigger than that,” said the First Lady. “It is about supporting our American heroes. It is about standing up for who we are as a nation. And that is something we can all agree on. There should never ever be any daylight between any of us when it comes to that.”
“As long as we have military members serving in harms way, we will always have veterans transitioning to civilian life who may need our help,” she continued. “The Mayors Challenge is a tangible and real way to honor and thank our veterans and their families for sacrificing so much for us all.”
About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.