As homelessness rose through the ’80s, the ’90s and into this century, many thought it was an intractable problem. Some communities resorted to just trying to move people along, with sit/lie ordinances and bus tickets out of town. Efforts to address the underlying problems were lacking.
Other communities, however, started experimenting with, and critically evaluating, new approaches that have helped us turn the corner.
Since the Obama Administration announced “Opening Doors,” the national strategic plan to end veteran homelessness by 2015 and all homelessness in America by 2020, we have reduced veteran homelessness by 33 percent, chronic homelessness by 16 percent and family homelessness by 8 percent.
With this success, and the announcement this June by the first lady, the VA, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National League of Cities of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, more than 200 mayors have pledged to end veteran homelessness in their communities by 2015.
Some of these new approaches include uniform data assessment; rapid rehousing, which provides rent or other short-term help to prevent homelessness in the first place; Housing First, which allows for homeless with disabling substance abuse disorders to be housed without requiring sobriety; family reunification for youths and young adults; and better coordination with mainstream services, including those provided by the VA, Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration and nonprofit organizations.
Not only are we using our existing resources more effectively, we have received important new resources in our effort to end veteran homelessness.
For veterans who need long-term supportive housing, the HUD/Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program has had major success. Under this program, HUD provides Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) for permanent housing for homeless veterans, working in conjunction with VA medical centers, which provide case management and counseling services.
The veterans must accept the VA services to receive the voucher, helping ensure that they have the support services they need.
To date, HUD has provided 360 vouchers to house homeless veterans throughout New Mexico, with 220 specifically designated for the Albuquerque area. The Las Cruces area has another 35 vouchers dedicated for homeless veterans.
As noted, as a result of all these efforts and investments, HUD, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the VA recently reported that veteran homelessness decreased 33 percent from 2010 to 2013, a truly incredible drop, but still not enough.
Recognizing that ending veteran homelessness is within reach, more than 200 mayors, including Mayor Richard J. Berry of Albuquerque and Mayor Ken Miyagishima of Las Cruces, confidently committed to ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, the goal set by the federal plan to end homelessness, “Opening Doors.”
More information on the Mayors Challenge can be found at www.hud.govveterans.
This June, first lady Michelle Obama, in announcing the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, said, “Here in America, we take care of our own. When a veteran comes home kissing the ground, it is unacceptable that he should have to sleep on it. Ending veteran homelessness can be a first step in proving that we can end all homelessness.”
I thank every mayor who has already signed up, and ask those who have not yet done so to join. They can do that on the HUD website at www.hud.govveterans or by contacting me personally at my regional office in Fort Worth.
Thank you for caring.
U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development Region VI covers the states of New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.