How Cities Can Acquire Free Land to House and Serve Homeless People

This webinar on April 25 will discuss the release of a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for vacant federal properties that can be used to help the homeless in your city.

One largely untapped resource for addressing homelessness and the affordable housing crisis is vacant federal property. (Getty Images)

Cities across the country are struggling with rising housing costs and shrinking federal supports, leaving millions of people homeless or at risk, including a record 1.4 million children of school age. With city budgets stretched to their limits, it is critical that local governments make full use of all available resources — and vacant federal property is a largely untapped resource.

The federal government is the largest single owner of real estate in the nation. Every year, the federal government determines that thousands of properties — including warehouses, office buildings and vacant land — are no longer needed. When such a determination is made, a federal program authorized under Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides local governments and nonprofit organizations with the right of first refusal to these properties to serve homeless people. Better yet, these properties are transferred to eligible homeless service providers for free.

Approximately 500 buildings and nearly 900 acres of land have been transferred to cities and other eligible homeless service providers in more than 30 states under Title V, with over two million people served each year. Federal surplus property is used to create emergency shelters, transitional housing for domestic violence survivors, and permanent supportive housing for mentally ill veterans, in addition to office and warehouse space.

Recently, the law was amended to clarify that surplus federal properties can be used for permanent housing with or without supportive services. This important clarification to the law will allow cities access to millions of dollars in federal real property assets to reduce or even end homelessness in a sustainable and cost-effective way — without paying for title to the properties.

On April 25, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) will release a toolkit with information about how to identify and successfully apply for properties under Title V and will host a webinar to discuss the toolkit at 2:00 p.m. EDT. You can register for the webinar here. The toolkit will be available on the NLCHP website.

(NLCHP)

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

Public Health and Housing: You Can’t Have One Without the Other

Partnerships that create a solid connection between housing and healthcare can offer a multitude of benefits for cities, including lower long-term healthcare costs, better educational opportunities, and employment that can help raise income levels.

The approach taken by cities like Phoenix, Arizona, of partnering with expert affordable housing developers as well as educational institutions and the medical and mental health communities offers cities a blueprint for how local officials can ensure public health is improved by focusing on housing and supportive services. (Getty Images)

For more than 20 years, the first full week of April has been designated across the country as National Public Health Week.

Notably, this year’s celebration comes on the heels of failed efforts to reform the nation’s healthcare system. While the president and Congress reassess policy options, some states have begun to reconsider whether or not to expand Medicaid.

It is well documented that housing improves outcomes related to health and education, but there is a symbiotic relationship between health and housing. Housing supports health, but in order for someone to thrive in housing, they must be connected to individualized supports that help them maintain their housing.

This understanding is a key component of the Housing First strategy that has emerged in the last 15 years as central to ending homelessness. Connections to medical, mental and dental health are not only good for individuals and families, but they are also fiscally prudent policies that lower long-term healthcare costs. In addition, individuals with stable housing and healthcare are better positioned to pursue educational opportunities and employment that can help raise income levels.

Many of the 31 states that have expanded Medicaid access have begun working in a variety of fashions to integrate Medicaid services with housing.

In California, integrating healthcare supports with housing helped the development of 69 apartments for very low- and extremely low-income seniors, veterans and homeless veterans.

With an increasingly aging community, the city of American Canyon recognized the need to partner with affordable housing developers, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and philanthropies to increase the amount of available housing with on-site services.

With support from the Home Depot Foundation, these local and federal partners joined together with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates to develop cottages with centralized parking, walking paths, recreational spaces and a community clubhouse to support wellness activities, independent living and aging-in-place.

Volunteer associates that are part of a Team Depot in Nashua, New Hampshire pack supplies to help veterans in need. (The Home Depot Foundation)

In Nashua, New Hampshire, Harbor Homes, Inc. provides low-income, homeless and disabled community members with affordable housing, primary and behavioral health care, employment and job training, and supportive services. Their holistic approach to care has consistently shown better outcomes for clients and the community. As a federally-qualified health center, Harbor Homes not only provides access to healthcare, but they have also developed and manage numerous housing sites to help connect these services to individuals and families.

Two weeks ago, at Harbor Homes, federal officials joined Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess in celebrating the city’s certification as the latest community to have met the benchmarks and criteria for achieving the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

“We have a long tradition of service here in Nashua,” said Mayor Donchess, “and we take care of our own. Thanks to the efforts of community partners like Harbor Homes, and with the support of federal, state and local resources, we are able to celebrate this achievement. This challenge is a commitment that we have made and we will keep. It requires vigilance and dedication.”

As in California, the Home Depot Foundation has partnered with Harbor Homes and others to ensure veterans and their families have safe housing. Due to Harbor Homes being able to support veterans and others placed into housing with services and resources provided through Medicaid, investments by other partners (such as the city and the state, as well as the quarter of a billion dollars committed by the Home Depot Foundation to veteran-related causes) can be leveraged to help more individuals and families.

With Dr. Ben Carson now at the helm of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, city leaders have a secretary who has consistently talked about the importance of housing as it relates to health. In the weeks to come, local officials should ensure these connections are fully understood by Congress as the federal budget is developed.

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

Research, Innovation and Cities: The Year in Review

Throughout 2016, NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences from San Francisco to Shanghai and everywhere in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard.

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography. www.jasondixson.com

NLC continues to shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help local officials lead. Pictured here at City Summit 2016 discussing the future of autonomous vehicles in cities: Jon Shieber, senior editor at TechCrunch; Debra Lam, chief innovation & performance officer of Pittsburgh; Justin Holmes, director of corporate communications and public policy at Zipcar; Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director of Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. (Jason Dixson)

This year has been one of growth and success for NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research (CSAR). Throughout 2016, we released impactful research across a range of focus areas – from the nuts and bolts of governing to future transportation and workforce shifts, innovation districts, and what cities need to know about drones.

We published familiar annual titles including our State of the Cities report, which analyzes the top issues for our nation’s mayors. We released the 31st edition of our City Fiscal Conditions report, which found that cities’ fiscal positions are strengthening as they continue to recover from the great recession. We finished out the year with our City of the Future research focusing on the critical role that automation and other disruptive changes are having on the workforce. At the core of each of these research products, our primary focus is analyzing how major, timely issues will impact cities.

Coinciding with our broad research agenda, CSAR experts have been on the ground in cities across the country working hand in hand with mayors, councilmembers, and city officials to build equitable, sustainable, financially sound communities that are prepared for future opportunities and challenges. And, in response to the growing opioid crisis, CSAR worked across NLC and together with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to convene the City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which recently published recommendations to help local officials to put an end to the epidemic.

Our Rose Center for Public Leadership continued its leading work on local land use challenges with the 2016 class of Daniel Rose Fellows. Those cities included Denver, Rochester, N.Y., Long Beach, Calif., and Birmingham, Ala. The Rose Center also launched the first-ever Equitable Economic Development Fellowship, selecting six cities to participate in its inaugural year: Boston, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Charlotte, N.C. This fellowship builds the capacity of America’s cities to ensure that prosperity is shared across their communities.

CSAR’s Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) launched new programs in 2016 that support and recognize NLC members’ efforts to preserve a clean environment, promote green jobs, and tackle climate change. The SolSmart program was launched in April to help cities make it easier for their residents and businesses to go solar. SCI also announced Leadership in Community Resilience, which is working with 10 cities from around the country to help local officials, city staff, and community partners share their experiences and advance local resilience efforts.

This year our team also incorporated NLC University into the Center, working to provide more focused programming and expanded capacity for city leaders. One example of this shift can be seen in this year’s City Summit attendance in Pittsburgh, where we had a 60 percent increase over last year. Additionally, with the hiring of new staff, we are looking to expand online learning and enhance the annual Leadership Summit.

NLC continues its work to end veteran homelessness, encouraging local leaders to make a permanent commitment to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. Through our leadership on the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, we facilitated on-the-ground engagement and assistance to city officials nationwide. We also continue to work together with the State Municipal Leagues on an annual research project focused on the critical intersections between city and state policy. This year we published Paying for Local Infrastructure in a new Era of Federalism, offering a state-by-state analysis of infrastructure financing tools.

CSAR also hosted a number of large events across the country. In the spring, we held the third annual Big Ideas for Cities event with a range of compelling stories from our nation’s mayors, expertly facilitated by the Atlantic’s James Fallows. In the fall we hosted the Big Ideas for Small Business Summit with economic development officials from 25 cities sharing strategies for building local small business and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Most recently, we hosted the second annual Resilient Cities Summit with the Urban Land Institute and U.S. Green Building Council, which brought together mayors from 15 cities across the country to focus on critical resilience strategies. These annual events allow NLC to elevate the voice of city leaders on issues that matter to communities across America.

Through our work on these important issues, we solidified partnerships with agencies across the federal government and worked with them on key programming, ensuring we are effectively communicating the voice of cities at every level. Some of these included: Small Business Administration for Startup in a Day, the Department of Veterans Affairs on veterans homelessness, the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the Prosperity Playbook, and Department of Energy on Net Zero Energy.

Throughout the year, our team presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences local, national, and global – from San Francisco to Shanghai and everything in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard. We continue to help shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help mayors and councilmembers learn and lead – and we look forward to our work in 2017.

Read our 2016 publications:

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.

 

Cities Remember Homeless Deaths, Commit to Creating Solutions

December 21 is marked as Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day. More than 100 communities across 39 states will hold memorial services and provide personal remembrances for those that have been lost. 

Poverty

In 2016, an estimated 2,675 homeless people have died in the United States.

On a bitterly cold winter morning in Boston nearly 15 years ago, I arrived at work to start my day doing outreach to women and men living on the city’s streets. As I approached the office, I saw someone huddled under a blanket leaning against the front door. After trying to wake them, I realized the man had died from exposure.

I did not recognize the man and he had few belongings. He died alone and nameless.

Tragically, this is an all too common occurrence. While there are no comprehensive data collected on the number of homeless men and women who die on our streets each year, in 2016 an estimated 2,675 people are reported to have died so far.

In an effort to honor the humanity of these individuals and draw attention to the deadly reality of homelessness, December 21 – the first day of winter and the longest night of the year – is marked as Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day.

Tonight, in collaboration with the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 112 communities across 39 states will hold memorial services where the names of those known are read and attendees provide personal remembrances.

These events offer cities an opportunity to reflect on the collective and individual tragedies, while recommitting to the necessary work of ensuring all people have a safe place to call home. Specifically, these events offer cities the chance to earnestly review what is happening in their response systems to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring.

Here in the nation’s capital, less than three blocks from NLC’s office, there is an example of how local leaders can come together to implement known best practices for housing the homeless.

Developed by Community Solutions, an internationally recognized provider of technical assistance on homelessness, the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence is a 124-unit complex with 60 units of permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless veterans, 17 units for tenants referred by the District’s Department of Behavioral Health, and 47 apartments for low-income residents making 60 percent or less of the area median income.

Access to permanent supportive housing is at the core of a community’s Housing First response to homelessness and the Conway Residences equally illustrates the importance of such housing and the challenges to affordable housing development.

During the 2016 Point in Time count of the District’s homeless population, 579 veterans were identified. Thanks to Community Solutions’ commitment to working with community stakeholders such as the local medical center of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the District’s Department of Housing and Community Development, units made available by the development have been prioritized for veterans who have been assessed for housing and services in a coordinated manner as part of The Way Home campaign.

The Conway Residences come as the District builds on progress that has housed 505 veterans between January and August 2016. Community partners estimate that 284 veterans still need to be housed to reach the goal of ending veteran homelessness.

Despite the critical need for units like those offered by the Conway Residences, the development’s eight-year timeline shows there are substantial areas in need of improvement to build and preserve the necessary amount of housing.

The Home Depot was a key partner in the development of the Conway Residences, providing capital and associates volunteered as part of Team Depot to prepare apartments for area veterans.

The Home Depot was a key partner in the development of the Conway Residences, providing capital and associates volunteered as part of Team Depot to prepare apartments for area veterans.

Thanks to the dedicated support of philanthropic partners such as The Home Depot Foundation and the William S. Abell Foundation, the Conway Residences continued to make progress as Community Solutions held numerous rounds of negotiations with a variety of funding entities and municipal departments.

The number of stakeholders with their own processes and timelines included: the Board of Zoning Adjustment, Department of Behavioral Health, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Department of General Services, Department of Housing and Community Development, District Department of Transportation, District of Columbia Housing Authority, District of Columbia’s Housing Finance Agency, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, DC Council, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Streamlining funding structures and coordinating municipal processes related to the development of affordable housing is a central role that cities can plan to support efforts to end homelessness. In cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles, state, county, and city officials have established an “affordable housing pipeline” to address these complexities and expedite the overall process.

Beyond streamlining, a persistent challenge for developers of affordable housing is a lack of resources. In the ongoing climate of dwindling federal resources, cities are increasingly turning to investments in affordable housing trust funds and rental subsidy programs resourced with local dollars.

In recognition of this need, in October, the District’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, announced a $106 million commitment to produce or preserve more than 1,200 affordable housing units across the city.

With thousands of people dying annually on city streets, it may be difficult to not see homelessness as an intractable problem that will always plague cities.

But this is not the case.

A growing number of communities are achieving a functional end to veteran homelessness as defined by a series of criteria and benchmarks established by federal partners as part of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Since 2010, veteran homelessness nationwide has declined 47 percent.

In addition, since 2010, cities report a reduction in chronic homelessness by 27 percent. Between 2015 and 2016 alone, chronic homelessness declined by 7 percent overall and in smaller communities the decline was 13 percent.

By committing to work with community stakeholders through efforts such as the Mayors Challenge, city leaders can turn the somber occasion of this year’s Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day into lasting and meaningful action that can improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us.

To learn more about what you can do in your city with the National League of Cities and our national partners through efforts like the Mayors Challenge, visit www.nlc.org/mayorschallenge.

 

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.

Top 3 Takeaways From the First Lady’s Address on Veteran Homelessness

First Lady Michelle Obama addressed and thanked city officials and the National League of Cities (NLC) for their support of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness as part of NLC’s 2016 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C.

Addressing by video more than 2,000 city leaders in Washington, D.C. as part of the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference, First Lady Michelle Obama applauded the historic commitment to veteran homelessness by city officials and NLC through the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

Since launching in June of 2014 as part of Joining Forces, more than 850 elected officials across 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have accepted the Mayors Challenge.

The First Lady highlighted three key elements as part of her address:

  1. Success is Possible

Since establishing the Mayors Challenge, 21 communities and two states have effectively ended veteran homelessness. These achievements illustrate that it is possible to build a community system that can ensure veteran homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring.

  1. Impacts Are Real

In the last year alone, more than 157,000 veterans and their families have secured or remained in permanent housing. Since 2010, veteran homelessness is down 36 percent and unsheltered veteran homelessness has been cut by almost half.

  1. Our Commitment to Veterans Must Be Permanent

The progress on veteran homelessness cannot stop. As long as we have men and women serving in our armed forces, there will always be veterans who may fall on hard times and need help. It is our duty to serve them as they have served us.

The National League of Cities is proud to be a key partner with the Administration on this effort since Day One. Click here for more information about how NLC can support your city’s efforts.

NLC has also published success stories that reveal in detail how the cities of Phoenix, Houston, New Orleans, and the Commonwealth of Virginia have accomplished monumental achievements.

These case studies can provide step-by-step examples for city leaders who wish to join the Mayors Challenge and make a real commitment to ending veteran homelessness.

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.

Houston Becomes Largest City to Effectively End Veteran Homelessness

Last week, Houston Mayor Annise Parker joined hundreds of service providers, community members and business leaders to announce that the city had built the system necessary to effectively end veteran homelessness.

Mayor Annise Parker discusses how Houston effectively ended veteran homelessness.

Mayor Annise Parker discusses how Houston effectively ended veteran homelessness at the official announcement event on Monday, June 1. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development)

“Too often those that answered the call of service still find themselves struggling long after leaving the military. Houston is there for our heroes, and just like on the battlefield, we will leave no one behind,” said Mayor Parker. “From regular provider coordination meetings and aligning local and federal resources, to dedicated street outreach teams and a coordinated assessment system that identifies, assesses, refers and navigates homeless veterans to housing, the Houston region has come together as a team to transform our homeless response system to effectively end veteran homelessness.”

Joining Mayor Parker were Representatives Al Green, Shelia Jackson Lee and Gene Green, as well as the Secretaries of the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Labor and the Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). The senior Administration officials attended the announcement as part of a three-city tour urging cities to mirror the success seen in Houston.

Houston is the largest city to make historic progress on veteran homelessness. In January, New Orleans announced it had reached a similar milestone and previously, Phoenix and Salt Lake City had announced an end to chronic veteran homelessness in their cities.

As the nation’s fourth largest city, Houston also has one of the nation’s largest veteran populations. During her remarks, Mayor Parker noted that Texas is one of the largest states contributing men and women to the military and that many veterans come to Houston following their service because of its economic opportunities.

Both the mayor and federal officials used their remarks to recognize the unfortunate reality that some veterans will experience housing instability and may become homeless. However, because the city has now built a coordinated system, once a homeless or at-risk veteran is identified, the community has the resources and ability to rapidly place the veteran into housing.

To make this system a reality, over 35 local agencies worked together under a collaboration called The Way Home. Collectively, in just over three years, this response system has housed more than 3,650 homeless veterans.

To help cities better understand what it means to meet the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, USICH has developed 10 Strategies to End Veteran Homelessness and issued criteria that communities who have joined the challenge can use to determine if they have built a system that effectively ends veteran homelessness.

One year ago, Mayor Parker was among the first mayors to join the Mayors Challenge. During the June 2014 launch of the challenge at the White House, Mayor Parker spoke about the progress already being seen in Houston. Twelve months later, Mayor Parker joins Mayors Becker, Stanton and Landrieu as local leaders who understand what the end of veteran homelessness looks like and have rallied their communities to make similar historic progress.

With only six months to go until we reach the ambitious timeline set to end veteran homelessness nationwide, local leaders have a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the landscape of how we understand and deal with homelessness.

Through the Mayors Challenge, elected officials across the country have stepped forward to give their support to ending homelessness for our veterans. Community stakeholders have more than 600 officials waiting to hear specific and pragmatic requests that can help house our veterans more rapidly.

This show of support by elected officials has never happened before and may never happen again.

In the remaining months, community partners must make tangible requests and engage elected officials with local data on progress being made and the needs moving forward. By illustrating the success that can happen with the active support of elected officials, communities can better partner with local leaders to advocate for the resources necessary to continue the progress seen on veteran homelessness and extend the progress to other homeless sub-populations.

Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix and Salt Lake City have recognized these facts and seized this opportunity.

Make your city the next to create history.

To read Houston’s announcement, click here.
To read NLC’s press release on the achievement, click here.
For more information on how to end veteran homelessness in your city, visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing or email harig-blaine@nlc.org.

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.

First Lady Honors New Orleans for Ending Veteran Homelessness, Announces New Resources

On Monday in New Orleans, first lady Michelle Obama joined Mayor Mitch Landrieu and community members to congratulate them for becoming the first city in the nation to achieve the goal of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. To help other cities reach the goal of ending veteran homelessness this year, the first lady announced three new resources.

First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness event in New Orleans. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness event in New Orleans. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

As part of celebrations marking the fourth anniversary of the Joining Forces initiative, Mrs. Obama highlighted the progress seen on behalf of veterans on employment, education, health care and mental health. Recognizing that veteran homelessness is at the intersection of these elements, the first lady said the issue “cuts straight to the core of what it means to support those who serve our country.”

“When we have tens of thousands of veterans who don’t have somewhere to go when it rains – that is a stain on our nation,” said Mrs. Obama. “That’s why, as President, my husband has vowed not to simply manage this problem but to end it. And overall, since 2010, we’ve housed nearly 230,000 veterans and their families.”

In January, Mayor Landrieu announced the city was the first to reach the historic milestone of achieving functional zero for homeless veterans. The city’s progress accelerated after Mayor Landrieu became one of the first mayors to join the challenge.

“This isn’t just an extraordinary achievement for the city, this is a call-to-action to our entire country,” said Mrs. Obama. “You all have proven that, even in a city as big as New Orleans, veterans’ homelessness is not a reality that we have to accept. It is not an impossible problem that’s too big to solve. Just the opposite – you’ve shown us that when leaders make this problem a priority and bring the right folks to the table, we can find a solution.”

Noting the importance of mayoral leadership, Mrs. Obama highlighted the actions taken by some of the other 570 mayors, governors and local officials who have committed to ending veteran homelessness by the end of this year.

  • Los Angeles housed more than 5,000 veterans last year.
  • New York City has cut the number of homeless veterans by more than half.
  • Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle and Mayor Rusty Bailey of Riverside, Calif. have supplemented federal funds with city funds to provide rental subsidies and rapid rehousing services.
  • Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy has invested nearly $3 million for homeless veterans, plus even more for veterans’ security deposits

New Resources

To support mayors who have joined the challenge, Mrs. Obama announced that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would begin regular conference calls to discuss proven best practices.

In addition, the first lady announced the availability of nearly $65 million to help more than 9,300 homeless veterans find permanent housing with HUD-VASH vouchers.

Finally, Mrs. Obama announced a commitment from Blackstone Equity to provide “Welcome Home Kits” for veterans when they transition into new housing. Blackstone’s portfolio of companies, such as Hilton, Motel 6, and La Quinta Inns and Suites, will be working with local leaders in 25 cities to provide furniture, appliances and other supplies.

Following the first lady’s remarks (which can be viewed in full here), Matthew Doherty, recently named Executive Director of USICH, spoke with Mayor Landrieu about some of the city’s keys to success.

Matthew Doherty (left) and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

Matthew Doherty (left) and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. (photo credit: Office of Mayor Landrieu)

The mayor noted that many of the lessons applied to ending veteran homelessness arose from the city’s experiences following Hurricane Katrina. Among these lessons was the importance of convening stakeholders to facilitate vertical and horizontal communication among local, state and federal agencies.

Mayor Landrieu pointed to his unique ability as mayor to convene and ensure that all stakeholders were “pulling in the same direction.”

As collective conversations were held, the community recognized the need for help identifying homeless veterans throughout the region, as well as a need for more housing. To meet these challenges, the mayor reached out to area landlords and property management companies, particularly those that were already working with the city and local housing authorities.

In addition, the community engaged the area’s active duty military personnel and veteran service organizations, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. With the participation of other veterans, more of their homeless peers were identified, engaged and connected to services.

Throughout the day, the first lady and Mayor Landrieu urged participants of the Mayors Challenge to bring together key representatives to better understand what is happening to end veteran homelessness in their community. To help mayors identify where to start their conversations, the National League of Cities (NLC) has developed Three Steps & Five Questions, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has published Five High Impact Steps, and HUD has compiled numerous resources as part of the Mayors Challenge Desk Book.

For more information about how NLC can support your city’s work to end veteran homelessness, visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing or contact harig-blaine@nlc.org.

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.

How the City of New Orleans Ended Veteran Homelessness

President Obama & HUD Secretary Castro @ 2015 NLC Congressional City ConferenceAs part of his remarks last week at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., President Obama thanked city leaders for stepping forward and joining the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Echoing the President, HUD Secretary Julián Castro thanked city officials for their partnership and leadership, citing the recent announcement by the city of New Orleans as the latest proof that the goal of ending veteran homelessness in 2015 is achievable. (photos: Jason Dixson)

Building on the success of Phoenix and Salt Lake City in ending chronic veteran homelessness, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced in January that the city had achieved the goal of the Mayors Challenge and reached functional zero on homelessness among all veterans.

In making the announcement, Mayor Landrieu said, “Six months ago on Independence Day, we came together to pay homage to our service members and veterans who courageously serve our great nation, and announced our goal to effectively end veteran homelessness in New Orleans by the end of 2014. I am honored and very pleased to report that we have housed 227 veterans, exceeding our goal of 193, thanks to the hard work of our committed partners. We owe our veterans our eternal gratitude for their service and sacrifice to this nation, and making sure they have a place to call home is a small but powerful way we can show our appreciation.”

To help disseminate some of the best practices from New Orleans, the city’s work has been highlighted during joint NLC/HUD regional forums in support of the Mayors Challenge. According to city officials, there were several key elements that led them to this historic accomplishment:

  • Leadership

Mayor Landrieu was one of the first mayors to join the Mayors Challenge. His support of the work was translated into daily engagement thanks to a dedicated staff person. The mayor’s focus resulted in specific challenges being identified and pursed relentlessly.

For example, in response to service gaps identified by community partners, the city committed HOME Investment Partnership resources to pay for rental assistance and to help with the development of permanent supportive housing. Mayor Landrieu’s leadership also served as a catalyst for other elements of success, such as:

  • Collaboration

Central to the success in New Orleans was the coordinated teamwork of all community partners. Joining the city in the effort were public and private partners from the local, state and federal levels.

Locally, the 63 partner agencies and service providers that are part of the Continuum of Care, including UNITY of Greater New Orleans, were critical allies. In addition, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, Housing Authority of New Orleans, Downtown Development District, and the New Orleans Interagency Council were key partners. These stakeholders joined forces with officials from federal partners at HUD, Veterans Affairs and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) as well as leaders from organizations such as Community Solutions, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and The Home Depot Foundation.

  • Access to affordable housing

Collectively, these partners enacted a local strategy to provide all veterans with access to permanent housing and supportive services. In the face of housing shortages faced by most major metropolitan areas, caused by rising rents and low vacancy rates, housing solutions in New Orleans have been further complicated by the on-going recovery from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, which flooded 80 percent of the city.

One way the community identified housing for veterans was through direct landlord engagement. Mayor Landrieu sent a letter to all landlords currently contracting with the city and the housing authority. Landlords were invited to a forum to learn more about available housing resources as well as the coordinated collaborations that would partner with them in support of formerly homeless veterans.

In addition, the city’s partnership with the Housing Authority of New Orleans, the local VA, and UNITY of Greater New Orleans resulted in 200 Housing Choice vouchers being designated for veterans no longer in need of HUD-VASH vouchers or other permanent supportive housing programs. This allowed other VASH and supportive housing vouchers to be made available for other homeless veterans.

As the city entered the final stretch of their efforts, a critical number of housing units became available through the Sacred Heart apartment complex. “The Sacred Heart units set us up for success when we needed it most,” said Sam Joel, the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor during a recent HUD/NLC Mayors Challenge forum.

Initially built in 1908 as a convent and school, the first of Sacred Heart apartments’ three development phases began accepting tenants in December 2014. When completed, the building will have 109 units, comprised of efficiencies and one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. 55 units will be prioritized for chronically homeless veterans, with the remaining 54 units being available for households earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income. As development continues, the building also will have a sunroom, a computer lab, a courtyard area and an on-site parking lot.

The $7.6 million project was made possible by a partnership between The Home Depot Foundation, the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana, UNITY of Greater New Orleans, and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. Various local, state and federal affordable housing programs were used to finance the construction of the property, including $1.2 million from the Landrieu administration. The remaining gap in financing was provided by The Home Depot Foundation.

In addition to providing investment capital, the Foundation donated construction supplies, fixtures and other furnishings for the new units. Volunteers of the local Team Depot visited the site to deliver and assemble furniture such as tables, chairs and shelving to ensure the veterans’ new apartments were comfortable enough to call home.

Elisha's blog post - Team Depot at Sacred Heart in NOLAMembers of Team Depot assemble furniture for veterans as they move into units at the Sacred Hearts apartments in New Orleans. (photo courtesy of The Home Depot Foundation)

Maintaining Functional Zero

New Orleans joins Salt Lake City and Phoenix in proving that communities can solve an issue once thought to be intractable. New Orleans’ success demonstrates that, with persistent leadership, community collaboration and the determination to identify needed housing, cities can provide housing for all veterans and ensure that future episodes of homelessness are rare, brief and non-recurring.

As the first city to declare they have reached the goal of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, New Orleans provides precedent for how a city can measure and discuss what it means to “end veteran homelessness.” Attaining this goal has come to be characterized as reaching “functional zero.”

New Orleans defines ending veteran homelessness as ensuring every homeless veteran who can be located is placed in permanent housing or in temporary housing with an identified permanent housing placement.

“Veteran homelessness is an important and challenging issue, and we are very proud of our accomplishment in New Orleans – but the work of ending veteran homelessness is never really done,” said Mayor Landrieu. “That’s why we have also created a new and sustainable rapid response model that combines all available local, state and federal resources with the work of our local active duty and former military personnel – utilizing veterans to help veterans. I hope our model here in New Orleans can be replicated nationwide so that we can end veteran homelessness in America once and for all.”

Veterans and others will always face periods of housing instability. But ensuring homelessness is not perennial is a dramatic change in how our country has addressed homelessness for more than 30 years. New Orleans’ accomplishment – and Mayor Landrieu’s understanding of what functional zero means for his city – provides guidance as other cities move closer to this goal.

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.

5 Reasons Veteran Homelessness in This State Dropped 75% in 100 Days

The Commonwealth of Virginia is poised to be the first state to end veteran homelessness, providing hope – and evidence – that we can end this national disgrace.

Terry-McGov. Terry McAuliffe recognizes community leaders who participated in the 100 Day Challenge, which aimed to place homeless veterans into permanent housing. (Flickr: Terry McAuliffe)

Yesterday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe joined federal, state and local leaders to celebrate a momentous achievement in the fight to end veteran homelessness. Over the course of 100 days, the Commonwealth of Virginia decreased veteran homelessness by 75 percent. The fastest drop in veteran homelessness ever made by a state.

The accomplishment builds on the success of a growing number of municipalities, including Phoenix, Salt Lake City and New Orleans who have ended or significantly decreased the number of homeless veterans in their communities.

“Ending veteran homelessness is a key component of making Virginia the best state in the country for active duty military personnel, veterans and their families,” said Governor McAuliffe. “I am proud of the progress we have made as a Commonwealth, but we cannot rest until every Virginia veteran has a safe and affordable place to live.”

How is such a dramatic change possible? Like most achievements – it took a lot of hard work. But for this once thought intractable issue, turning the corner has relied on these five components:

Virgina Veteran Homelessness Infographic

Click on this infographic to view it in a larger format.

1. Leadership

From early on, Governor McAuliffe and his administration made ending veteran homelessness a priority. McAuliffe was one of the first Governors to join the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. His commitment inspired 14 mayors and county executives to join the Challenge.

Under the Governor’s direction, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs John Harvey, led the Department of Veteran Services’ work to develop a statewide “boot-camp.” The statewide coordination was driven by the Governor’s Coordinating Council on Homelessness, local providers and guided by the experience of the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, as well as nationally recognized organizations such as the Rapid Results Institute and Community Solutions.

In addition, to support local improvements in service delivery, the Governor proposed funding of $1 million that would help provide veterans with access to housing through the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development. He also proposed increasing the number of housing counselors working as part of the state’s Wounded Warrior Program from three to five. The counselors support veterans as they navigate the housing process. These proposals have broad bipartisan and bicameral support in the state legislature.

2. Collaboration

In late September, as part of a two-day homeless veteran boot-camp, local leaders from cities across the commonwealth joined with homeless service providers, veteran groups, local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs), officials from the state’s Department of Veteran Services, Virginia Housing Development Authority and from federal partners including the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The boot-camp focused on four regions across the commonwealth. The teams represented Richmond, Roanoke, the Peninsula region (Newport News and Hampton) and South Hampton (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Suffolk). During the boot-camp, each team developed week by week action plans based on the demand for services and the resources in each community.

In reviewing their success, each of the four teams acknowledged the importance of working with each other more effectively. Most teams met bi-weekly to discuss their progress, address obstacles, refine each partner’s role and responsibilities and collectively match clients with available housing. The improvements in community conversations were paired with commitment from federal leaders.

This collective dedication created an environment of accountability. With the setting of ambitious goals came an expectation by on-the-ground staff that they would be given the tools needed, such as answers to regulatory ambiguities that had previously slowed progress. Conversely, leaders had agreed upon goals with a timeline by which they could measure progress each week.

3. Data-Driven Planning

The 2014 point-in-time count found 620 homeless veterans statewide. The four teams aimed to house 370 homeless veterans during the 100 days. These goals were determined using data from community Homeless Management Information Service (HMIS) systems, VA data and on-the-ground knowledge of the area’s homeless veteran population informed by outreach workers and case managers.

This data quantified the existing demand for services and was paired with a mapping out of the services and resources available in each community. PHA representatives discussed the allocation of HUD-VASH housing vouchers, traditional housing choice vouchers (section 8) and other housing resources. Non-profits discussed their administration of resources from the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) programs, which provides money for homelessness prevention and rapid-rehousing, as well as the Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program that supports transitional housing.

Using this data to guide the way forward, each of the four teams exceeded their initial goals. All told, the four teams housed, or will place into housing very shortly, 462 veterans.

4. Proven Strategies

With progress being seen in communities across the country, there is a clear understanding of what works. Phoenix, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Houston and others such as those involved with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 25 Cities Initiative have put in place coordinated assessment processes. The most successful of these processes include a prioritization component (the VI-SPDAT) to help efficiently place the most vulnerable individuals into housing.

In each community, these tools operated within a collective agreement that Housing First was the way forward. Stakeholder conversations were built upon the understanding that the best way to solve homelessness was by placing people in housing and providing them with the person-centered resources and services necessary to maintain housing.

In this environment, each community focused on how to make that concept a reality.

5. Concrete Goals

As elected officials have joined the Mayors Challenge and cities across the country have begun reaching a tipping point on veteran homelessness, many are asking what the end of veteran homelessness means. What does this look like?

In the past year, the term “functional zero” has surfaced as a way to talk about this concept. Recently, USICH published a two-page guide to help leaders better understand when their city has met the Mayors Challenge.

“There are no longer any veterans experiencing unsheltered homelessness in the community…the community has the resources and a plan and timeline for providing permanent housing opportunities to all veterans who are currently sheltered but are still experiencing homelessness,” says the report.

It is particularly important for elected leaders to understand the concept of functional zero.

No elected official operates under the notion that capital infrastructure projects are elements of a static municipal plan. Community needs for water, sewer and transportation evolve. Equally, functional zero brings cities to the point where they can maintain the progress that brings the availability and application of resources in line with the demand for services.

The social capital that cities develop in order to reach functional zero must be maintained and evolve over time. As homeless veterans are housed, they can be provided services and build the trusting relationships that can help even the most resistant individuals. Over time, these relationships and services reduce harmful behaviors, such as addiction, and connect veterans and their families to education, employment and credentialing opportunities.

Today, we are less than 11 months away from the federal goal to end veteran homelessness. To help spread the lessons learned in Virginia, NLC is holding regional forums with HUD across the country, including at our upcoming Congressional City Conference next month in Washington, D.C. (register here today).

As the Commonwealth positions to be the first state to end veteran homelessness, they provide hope, but more importantly evidence, that we can end this disgrace.

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.