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.

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.

Regional Forums Begin as HUD and NLC sign Memorandum of Understanding

The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness presents a rare opportunity for local officials to lead the way across the finish line on a community issue once thought intractable.

HUD-Meeting-PhillyA regional forum in Philadelphia supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. (Photo Credit: HUD)

This week in Philadelphia, mayors, city representatives, non-profit leaders, federal and state officials gathered as part of the second regional forum supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

The first forum was held two weeks ago in Austin before the start of NLC’s annual conference, the Congress of Cities and Exposition. During the conference, NLC and HUD signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding to develop more regional forums across the country.

As part of the regional forums, local elected officials are not only encouraged to join the challenge, but are provided more information about the available resources in communities and who are the local contacts. In addition, participants share with one another how they have made progress toward ending veteran homelessness.

During this week’s forum, participants heard from representatives about success in Philadelphia and Binghamton, New York. In Binghamton, Mayor Richard David and the city commission pledged their commitment to end veteran homelessness at an event on September 5, 2014.

After making his commitment, Mayor David reached out to local veterans, homelessness advocates, community leaders, service providers and state and federal officials. Collectively, the group identified veterans in need and the available resources in the community.

As of November 12, 21 veterans had been housed and that night, there were no veterans sleeping on the streets of Binghamton.

During the Austin forum, participants heard about specific actions taken by the city in Salt Lake City, New Orleans and Houston.

In Salt Lake City, officials worked with county and state leaders to ensure program administrators using CDBG resources only needed to file one report to meet federal reporting requirements rather than multiple reports for local, county and/or state CDBG dollars.

Additionally, Mayor Becker has engaged local landlords to provide apartments for veterans who have been matched with supportive services and housing resources. Similarly, in New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu worked with local realtors and property management companies to recruit landlords to join city efforts.

Houston’s Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives spoke about the importance of creating a “yes” culture. “We have learned that it is not enough to simply have a drop-in center or VASH or SSVF or even coordinated assessment; we must have a “yes” culture,” said Mandy Chapman-Semple. “We operate with the understanding that there is a housing option for every homeless veteran and that it is our duty to offer those choices and deliver.”

Another key element of the regional forums is developing an understanding of what the end of veteran homelessness looks like. While veterans will continue to experience housing instability due to economic, medical or personal circumstances, representatives from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and HUD discussed the end of veteran homelessness meaning that any episode of homelessness is brief, rare and non-recurring.

In Philadelphia, stakeholders believe they will reach this point, called “functional zero,” by fall of 2015. This achievement was first made in Phoenix and Salt Lake City among chronically homeless veterans in the last year.

As part of Congress of Cities, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, joined a panel with the President of Denver’s City Council, Chris Herndon and representatives from The Home Depot Foundation, Community Solutions and the American Legion. The panel discussed how an initial focus on ending homelessness among veterans can better position cities to improve the community for everyone.

Mayor Stanton and Councilman Herndon talked about the opportunity their communities have found to tie together supportive services related to employment, education and healthcare after veterans are stably housed.

Mayor Stanton specifically discussed how his community is now beginning to move the successes they’ve learned around chronically homeless veterans to non-chronically homeless veterans and all chronically homeless individuals and families.

Stanton-SessionPhoenix Mayor Greg Stanton speaking during a panel session at the Congress of Cities in Austin.

With a 33% decline in veteran homelessness since 2010, including a 40% decline among unsheltered homeless veterans, cities across the country are proving that homelessness can end.

In 391 days, we reach the federal goal date when we have aimed to end veteran homelessness. The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness presents a rare opportunity for local officials to lead the way across the finish line on a community issue once thought intractable. Regional forums developed by NLC and HUD will continue to help city leaders identify specific actions they can take to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home.

For specific questions and actions you can take in your city, see Three Steps & Five Questions.

NLC and HUD are actively developing future regional forums. If you are interested in learning about or having a regional forum in or near your community, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine at 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.

Serving Veterans in Rural America Requires City Engagement

After enduring years of Vermont winters on the streets, a homeless veteran finally found a place to call home through a partnership between regional nonprofits, the Veterans Administration and the City of Winooski, a town with a population of less than 7,300.

When asked about the impact on his life, he said, “this program has helped me stay sober for three years. I have been given not just a physical home, but also a state of mind home, and that is a great feeling.”

Replicating this success with other veterans in largely rural areas like Winooski requires regional cooperation between many stakeholders to overcome the unique challenges of long distances and sparsely populated areas.

From Service to Shelter, a report released this week by the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) and The Home Depot Foundation, highlights the troubling prevalence of veteran homelessness in rural America, resources available to address the issue and models for successful implementation.

The report found that veterans are over-represented in the homeless population in rural areas, and the overall rural veteran population is getting older. Currently, 43 percent of veterans in rural America are aged 65 or older, and that number is expected to rise to 70 percent in the next 10 years.

vets-stats-1-f

In recognition of these challenges and facts, a collaborative effort between HUD, VA and the Department of Labor has been piloted in five communities near major military installations. The Veteran Homelessness Prevention Demonstration (VHPD) targeted two of its locations near Ft. Hood and Ft. Drum, both of which have significant rural areas nearby.

While the pilot program’s evaluation is not yet finalized, two primary concerns and possible solutions have already emerged. The first challenge is not surprising. The large geographic size of rural areas makes service delivery challenging. To ease this challenge, officials are looking at ways to co-locate services delivered by federal agencies. By having all assistance in one stop, people can avoid multiple and costly trips.

The second challenge is the increased levels of isolation and the stigma associated with getting “help.” In a small community, the sense that “everyone knows everyone” appears to have the effect of discouraging people from accessing services that could help bring them out of homelessness. Federal officials realize that changing the location and manner of how services are delivered will be necessary to overcome this barrier. The precise process for doing this will require the insights and help of local leaders who can assist their federal partners with a more nuanced understanding of their community.

Efforts such as VHPD are part of an unprecedented level of federal support for homeless veterans. In support of the federal goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the Administration has dramatically increased the availability of resources that serve veterans.

With the availability of resources at an all-time high, local coordination is the principal challenge. Having service providers identify homeless veterans, assess their needs in a coordinated manner and prioritize the delivery of services ensures that the right resources are delivered to the right person at the right time. Progress is being made and is reflected by the 24 percent reduction in veteran homelessness since 2010.

vets-stats-2-f
Information compiled by:
NCH

To help ensure veterans in rural areas have a safe place to call home, The Home Depot Foundation is partnering with HAC as part of its Affordable Housing for Rural Veterans Initiative. Through the initiative, HAC and The Home Depot Foundation have awarded grants totaling more than $260,000 to nine local nonprofit housing associations to build or preserve housing for veterans in rural America.

In addition to the grants, HAC provides rural nonprofits serving veterans with training, research and other assistance to help increase their capacity and allow them to better serve their communities.

To date, organizations in Maine, Washington, Tennessee, Texas and Florida have received assistance allowing nearly 100 veterans and their families to have a new home.

In the next month, an additional $250,000 in grants will be announced. For more information about HAC’s work for veterans in rural areas, visit www.ruralhome.org/veterans or contact Janice Clark at Janice@ruralhome.org.

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

60 Minutes Profiles Nashville, while Dallas Convenes Landlords to Bring Veterans Home

Last night on 60 Minutes, the 100,000 Homes Campaign was profiled for their work with cities and other stakeholders across the country to change how we address homelessness. While Nashville was highlighted in the segment, other communities, such as Dallas, are also taking bold steps to bring together the necessary partners to ensure veterans and the chronically homeless have a place to call home.

In Nashville, the city provides the staff and capacity support for the How’s Nashville campaign. The campaign has brought the city together with the area housing authority, private landlords, the VA, and other service providers to prioritize people for housing based on how likely they are to die on the street. To accomplish this goal, housing units are paired with homeless individuals using resources such as Housing Choice Vouchers and HUD-VASH vouchers. The commitment of vouchers has been paired with philanthropic contributions of reduced rent apartments by private landlords. The need for partnerships with private landlords has been recognized as a key to success among stakeholders in Dallas as well.

Recently in Dallas, Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell joined representatives from the Mission Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Team, including officials from the Dallas Housing Authority and the regional VA and HUD offices for a landlord forum. Dozens of landlords attended the event to learn more about community efforts to end veteran homelessness and the need for landlords who are willing to accept veteran-specific (HUD-VASH) housing vouchers.

Assistant City Manager O’Donnell speaks with landlords and property managers at a forum about efforts to bring veterans home.

In April 2013, stakeholders from across the Dallas community came together at a homeless veteran boot-camp facilitated by the 100,000 Homes Campaign. During the 100 days following the boot camp, the team housed 130 homeless veterans. Since the boot-camp, a total of 515 veterans have been housed, with 62 percent being chronically homeless. This progress built upon a 25.9 percent drop in the number of homeless veterans in Dallas between 2011 and 2012. The 2013 Point-in-Time Count showed only 303 homeless veterans. With the 2014 Point-in-Time count recently conducted, the community will soon have more recent data to direct their efforts.

During the initial 100 days, team members worked with NLC and recognized that an obstacle to continued progress was a lack of landlords willing to accept HUD-VASH vouchers. To overcome this obstacle, NLC helped initiate discussions between the city and the team. With the support of team members and the city, NLC drafted a letter, which was signed by Mayor Mike Rawlings and sent to landlords and property managers already working with the city through other housing programs.

To further draw attention to the work and success of the team, Mayor Rawlings also recorded a public service announcement congratulating the team. The mayor used the PSA to urge the public to support the team’s efforts with donations to help with expenses not covered by programs serving veterans. In Nashville, these expenses have also been met by private contributions, but recently the city’s CDBG administrator also announced their commitment of up to $200,000 to help with costs such as rental deposits or utility fees.

With continued focus, both Dallas and Nashville are on pace to join Phoenix and Salt Lake City as a city that have ended chronic veteran homelessness. As each city reviewed their challenges and successes, the need for improving engagement with landlords was identified as a recurring need to help veterans and the chronically homeless find a home more quickly. Combined with an on-going use of data to drive decision-making, Dallas and Nashville are important illustrations of the success that is possible when local collaboration is joined with city leadership

Learn more here about the Mission DFW team.

To learn how you can best support efforts to end veteran homelessness in your city, contact me at harig-blaine@nlc.org.

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

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.

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

HUD Secretary Donovan: “Communities are assets to be built on”

Recently in Atlanta, federal, state, and local officials joined advocates and local practitioners to discuss solutions to housing issues facing communities across the country. During the event, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan spoke about the Administration’s recognition that housing is one of the primary pillars needed to help grow the middle class. Secretary Donovan noted, “communities are not places with problems to be solved, but assets to be built on.”

In outlining the vision of a “new federalism,” the Secretary noted that the federal government needed to again become a strong partner with local stakeholders. Donovan outlined several examples of this partnership such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative and the Rental Assistance Demonstration. In addition, a renewed relationship between federal agencies and local partners is shown in the growing progress being made toward ending chronic veteran homelessness.

In the coming months, either Salt Lake City or Phoenix will become the first city in the nation to end chronic veteran homelessness. This unprecedented accomplishment is on the cusp of reality because of a focused and sustained commitment by both federal and local government officials, as well as non-governmental stakeholders in these communities.

At the federal level, since 2008, over 48,000 housing vouchers specifically designated for veterans have been distributed to communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Unlike traditional Housing Choice Vouchers (aka Section 8), HUD-VASH vouchers have additional support from VA case workers. As a result, both veterans and landlords have a resource should issues arise.

Also in 2008, the VA was authorized to begin the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. SSVF’s goal is to promote housing stability among very low-income veterans and their families who reside in or are transitioning to permanent housing. In FY13, the SSVF program provided nearly $300 million to 319 organizations to serve approximately 120,000 veteran households.

In 2010, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released Opening Doors, a comprehensive plan to prevent and end homelessness, with the specific goal of ending chronic veteran homelessness by 2015. Ongoing support from Congress and the Administration for the HUD-VASH and SSVF programs, combined with improved implementation at the local level, has led to a 17% decline in veteran homelessness since the release of Opening Doors.

In Phoenix, these federal resources have been maximized by local stakeholders, including the city. To help reduce the amount of time between when a veteran is awarded a voucher and when they move in to a unit, the two city departments that are required to conduct housing inspections collaborated to allow for one inspection to occur that met both agencies’ requirements. In addition, the city has supported a locally developed innovation called a navigator with funds from their Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Emergency Solutions Grant programs. The navigators provide peer support to chronically homeless veterans by walking them step-by-step through the process and providing assistance when necessary to make certain they obtain and sustain housing.

In Salt Lake City, stakeholders recognized they were starting their efforts to end veteran homelessness with imperfect data. To overcome this, partners began regular meetings to identify the veterans in need, come to agreement about what people should be prioritized, and determine what resources were available in the community to meet those needs.

In addition to these steps, city, county, and state officials worked to create a uniform reporting process for organizations using federal Emergency Shelter Grant resources. These resources were primarily being used to fund rapid re-housing efforts, and the uniform reporting reduced administrative time and costs associated with their use. As a result, since February 2013, Salt Lake City has been placing the homeless into housing at a rate that puts the city on a path to end veteran and chronic homelessness in the coming months.

Finally, in Tacoma, WA, community stakeholders have come together to form a Veterans Housing Options Group. The group consists of the WA State Department of Veterans Affairs, the two local agencies administering SSVF, and representatives from the regional VA office. The work to improve how services are delivered to homeless veterans is being complemented by the city, which has encouraged the WA State Housing Finance Commission to consider including a veteran preference when determining how federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits are distributed. In addition, the city is considering actions that would benefit homeless veterans, including inclusionary zoning requirements and voluntary housing development incentives, among others.

In an environment of limited fiscal resources, Secretary Donovan is correct when he acknowledges that cities are where innovations are born and progress is made. But these innovations cannot happen when there is persistent uncertainty about the level of federal resources and where those resources will be directed. Increasing partnerships between the federal government and municipal officials is a common sense notion that requires sustained support in order to see results. In their own ways, these cities are illustrating how progress on an issue can be made when local governments have focused and committed partners at the federal level.

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