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Central Texas coalition working to end veteran homelessness
Across the area, the Central Texas Homeless Coalition is working to provide resources to end veteran homelessness.
According to a "point in time" count conducted in January, there were 31 veterans identified between Bell, Coryell, Lampasas and Hamilton counties.
‘We're always working towards the goal of ending, not only veteran homelessness, but homelessness within the community,” said Jessica McMurray, a board member for the coalition.
Through programs such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families, organizations including Families in Crisis are able to help vets find a permanent home, land a new job and get help with other life necessities.
"We’ve really come together, even recently, to make a system where all of the homeless are identified and given the resources they need,” said McMurray, who is also the program manager for Supportive Services for Veteran Families at Families in Crisis.
Resources without preconditions to get vets off the streets and give them the support they need.
"I think it's very important that veteran clients, or in general in any homeless client, that they're going to speaking with someone that isn't judging them, we're not here to tell them how to live their lives,” said Suzanne Armour, director of programs at Families in Crisis.
Earlier this month, the city of Abilene, Texas, reached a designation to effectively eliminate veteran homelessness. That designation – or functional zero – means the number of actual homeless veterans in town is less than the number that the city is able to place.
In Central Texas, that is also the goal.
"All of our programs are working towards declaring functional zero, which means that the inflow of veterans are less than or equal to our outflow of veterans. Having the resources to house every single homeless veteran that's identified. Yes, absolutely that's a goal we're always working towards,” McMurray said.
Families in Crisis provides services for the homeless and other services including assistance for family violence and sexual assault victims.
Bringing everyone to the table to better our community.
Bringing people together allows our community to get BIG projects done. In Abilene, we have been able to accomplish goals that many thought we couldn't, like effectively ending veteran homelessness.
Mayors understand that that having a strong local economy, that supports and champions local businesses, is the lifeblood of their towns. By using public/private partnerships, we keep Abilene growing.
When Mayor Williams first ran for his office, he promised to bring more of the community to the table. Working with groups across the community helps everyone's voice to be heard.
His personal history has prepared him to lead from the front
Mayor Williams has a story the everyone can connect with. That is why he is able to connect with people from all walks of life. He has spent his adult life volunteering and mentoring kids of our community, after seeing the impact others had on his life.
What Anthony believes
When everyone has a voice, great things can be accomplished
Anthony believes "Families, are families, are families and there is not much different except circumstances." Government can't fix every issue but it can facilitate change by making sure everyone is heard and understood. When we help others, the "team" gets stronger.
Commentary on politics and the continuation of policy by other means.
Houston and Abilene do a better job of dealing with homelessness
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When it comes to homelessness in America, cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, and even Dallas might want to take a page out of Houston's playbook.
The southeast Texas city has managed to cut its homelessness rate in half in the last decade by using a coordinated strategy that includes partnerships between the public and private sectors.
Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, with a population of more than 2.3 million residents.
In 2020, more than 30,000 people in the Houston area — Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties — needed some type of homeless assistance. That number jumped to 45,000 if prevention and other services such as food or clothing aid were factored in, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. On any given night in the Houston region, there were 3,974 people living outside, according to the 2020 Homeless Count and Survey.
But whereas comparable cities such as Chicago and Phoenix saw their homelessness numbers rise, Houston has seen a 54% decrease in overall homelessness since 2011.
The real secret behind Houston's success is the constant communication between the city, the county, business communities, and nonprofit groups that provide food, clothing, shelter, and other services to the area's homeless population, officials said.
Marc Eichenbaum, special assistant to Mayor Sylvester Turner on homeless initiatives, said the city also invested in long-term housing, which ended up saving millions of dollars. It wasn't about bringing services to growing encampments but instead focused on permanent housing.
PARENTS FURIOUS OVER HOMELESS CAMP ON SCHOOL PROPERTY - BUT BOARD SAYS IT'S A TEACHABLE MOMENT
The chronically homeless population had been costing taxpayers $103 million a year, he said.
“We were able to cut those costs by more than 70% by paying for long-term housing with wrap-around supportive services,” Eichenbaum told KXAN. “It’s fiscally conservative. It is a wise financial investment to permanently house your homeless.”
So far, Houston has provided more than 19,000 individuals with services and housing.
“It takes both," he said. "You can’t just put somebody in housing without services, and it’s not very successful just providing services on the streets. Of the 19,000, more than 90% of them stayed housed two years after their placement.”
Houston's success caught the eye of Austin officials, who saw a boom in homelessness on their streets.
In February, the Austin City Council passed a new initiative, the Homeless Encampment Assistance Link, to connect people experiencing homelessness to housing or a safe, housing-focused shelter. The measure would eventually create permanent housing that would ideally eliminate the need for unsheltered camping.
The first phase of HEAL is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, according to the city's Homeless Strategy Office. It targets four homeless campsites that have been deemed dangerous.
Dianna Grey, Austin’s homeless strategy officer, said in early April that the homeless camps, which are located in south-central, east, downtown, and northwest Austin, would be established as noncamping areas by the end of August. Before then, Grey said the plan would also involve quickly moving all of the people into housing, be it temporary or permanent.
“What we’re seeing now is our community coming together to put the resources behind the proven housing and outreach strategies identified in Austin and across the country,” Grey said. “HEAL is, by design, an iterative and collaborative initiative that will not only have an immediate impact on the lives of people living in unstable and inhumane conditions, but will also build the entire system’s capacity to make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring.”
HEAL's preliminary budget is $4.3 million. Negotiation of contracts and agreements for outreach, shelter, case management, housing, and other support has already started.
LOS ANGELES POLICE ATTACKED WITH 'ROCKS' AND 'SMOKE BOMBS' AFTER TRYING TO CLEAR OUT HOMELESS ENCAMPMENT
Another Texas city seeing its homelessness numbers go down is Abilene, located about 180 miles west of Dallas. Abilene is the center of a 22-county area referred to as the Big County, with a total population of about 120,000.
Over the past few years, service providers there built a "by-name list" of every unhoused person and have worked with those individuals to find housing and other services.
In 2019, Abilene declared that it had reached "functional zero" for homeless veterans, meaning that the number of veterans who became homeless each month was less than the number the city is able to house. In 2020, Abilene announced it had reached "functional zero" for chronic homelessness as well, becoming one in a very small group of U.S. cities to claim that status. Its focus now is on youth and family homelessness.
Sa n Francisco, Seattle, and LA are all significantly worse off with people pooping on the streets and a total loss of control of the situation. Part of the problem in those areas is that Housing is unaffordable even for people with jobs. Austin made the mistake of pandering to the campers rather than attacking the core problem. It looks like it is trying to work its way out of the mess it made by copying the West Coast model. Austin, like the West Coast cities, is run by liberals.
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- The 2009 annual homeless assessment report to Congress, veteran supplement. Washington (DC): United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs 2011.
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- The 2009 annual homeless assessment report to Congress. Washington (DC): US Department of Housing and Urban Development 2010.
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A combination of challenges
UK charity Crisis lists the following as some of the common causes of homelessness:
- A lack of affordable housing
- Poverty and unemployment
- Leaving prison, care or the armed forces with no stable home to go to
- Escape from a violent relationship or abusive childhood home
- Relationship breakdown
- Mental or physical health problems
- Substance misuse and other addictive behaviours
This means there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the solution one person’s problems might only offer temporary respite for another.
Addressing the symptomatic problems of homelessness can be beneficial, but it won’t automatically fix the root cause of an individual’s circumstances.
For someone struggling with poor mental health or substance abuse, for example, it can be practically impossible to meet the commitments of training and employment.
These people can find themselves outside of possible routes to help, too, with some shelters and hostels not accepting people who have not dealt with their addictions.
12 Communities Reaching & Sustaining an End to Veteran Homelessness
Homelessness is solvable — nowhere has that been demonstrated more clearly than in the progress to end veteran homelessness.
Twelve communities across the country have reached and sustained a measurable end to veteran homelessness called functional zero.
Here’s what we can learn from their progress.
1. A by-name list of every veteran experiencing homelessness is needed to get to functional zero.
All of the communities that have reached functional zero for veterans started by achieving quality, real-time, person specific data. A by-name list accounts for every veteran in the community who is experiencing homelessness. It includes information like their housing needs and history of homelessness.
Next, communities use this list to find housing solutions for everyone on it — while keeping the list updated with anyone new who enters into homelessness. They also use this data to hypothesize strategies to improve their system and test new ideas. By understanding how the overall number of veterans experiencing homelessness is changing month over month, the community can track whether these interventions are driving population level reductions in homelessness (see number 3, below).
“It’s living data. It’s constantly being updated and kept current,” said Jennifer Jaeger, who is Community Services Director at City of Rockford, Illinois. Rockford reached functional zero for veteran homelessness in 2015.
2. No single agency can end homelessness across a community — it takes a team.
Built for Zero helps communities build a unified regional team with a shared aim of getting to functional zero for a population. They focus their improvements on target populations as they move toward systems that can end homelessness for all.
In many communities, the homeless response system is fragmented and siloed across multiple agencies. Often, success is defined by each organization’s programmatic goals rather than whether the overall number of people experiencing homelessness decreases.
In Lynchburg, Virginia, for example, 32 agencies were working on veteran homelessness. The team unified their efforts and got them working together. They started having weekly “veteran huddles,” where the agencies would work together to house veterans. This collaboration shortened the average amount of time veterans remained homeless, and in February of 2020, they reached functional zero.
“Every member of the veteran huddle was really committed to improving housing placements for homeless veterans and each had a unique service and skillset to offer to make that a reality,” said Sarah Quarantotto, Executive Director of Miriam’s House.
3. Testing new ideas is key.
Once communities have created quality, by-name data of everyone experiencing homelesssnness, they are ready to start hypothesizing strategies and testing new ideas. Using quality improvement methods, they come up with ideas intended to drive homelessness down. Then, they look to their data to see if these interventions are working.
For example, in Lake County, Illinois, their homeless response system required that people go through shelters in order to receive access to permanent housing. The local team recognized this was a potential barrier.
“There were so many reasons why people might not want to come into shelter,” said Brenda O’Connell, who worked as the Continuum of Care Program Coordinator of Lake County when they reached functional zero. “For example, ‘I have a pet who is my life, and I will not leave them for the night.’ Or ‘I have a serious mental illness and sleeping in a room with 20 other people is not something I can do.’”
So, they tested other ways to connect veterans who were not visiting shelters to permanent housing solutions.
4. It’s possible to dramatically decrease the amount of time it takes for a community to house a veteran.
The Gulf Coast Region of Mississippi became the first community to reach functional zero for veteran homelessness in 2015.
They were able to achieve this by improving their homeless response system, increasing the speed of housing local veterans who had experienced homelessness. At one point, they had reduced the time it took from identifying a new veteran experiencing homelessness to placing them in housing to just 14 days.
5. Some places can end veteran homelessness without increasing housing supply by focusing on systems improvements.
Without question, expanding access to affordable housing is a critical link to ending homelessness in some cities. But cities are also able to make progress by improving their existing homeless response systems.
So far, 93% of Built for Zero communities that have reached functional zero chronic or veteran homelessness did so without increasing their housing supply. How is this possible? Because to end homelessess, you need more than just housing — you need a system that can effectively connect that housing to the people who need it.
This was the case in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a continuum of care region that covers nearly 700,000 people that reached functional zero for veteran homelessness in October of 2019.
“We were definitely the community that thought we didn’t have resources [to end veteran homelessness], but it turns out it wasn’t true at all,” said Emma Beers, who helped the Chattanooga and Southeast Tennessee community functionally end veteran homelessness in her previous role. “Change started happening without it.”
6. It’s possible to make progress — and even functionally end — veteran homelessness during a pandemic.
Two communities reached functional zero for veterans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fremont County, Colorado, had achieved quality, by-name data when the pandemic hit in March 2020. They reached functional zero for veteran homelessness a year later. The community took advantage of the fact that they had temporarily housed people experiencing homelessness in hotels and motels, in order to provide safer accommodations than congregate shelters. They worked to find permanent housing for the people temporarily quarantined in hotels.
Across the country, Crater Region, Virginia, also reached functional zero. The community both managed the challenges posed by COVID and simultaneously seized opportunities afforded by the new federal resources available for responding to needs of people experiencing homelessness.. The team was able to leverage funding from the CARES Act to help people experiencing homelessness into housing and assist people at risk of homelessness by using available rent and mortgage relief funding.
“The pandemic increased the work we had to get done and made it even more urgent. We couldn’t slow down and had to do even more to pick up the pace,” said Erica Holmes, Crater Region Team Lead and Director of Program Operations at St. Joseph’s Villa.
7. Communities have used their learning from reaching functional zero for one population to accelerate getting to functional zero for more groups.
In January of 2017, Rockford, Illinois, became the first community in the United States to end both chronic and veteran homelessness. Since then, two other communities — Bergen County, New Jersey, and Abilene, Texas — have reached functional zero for both veteran and chronic homelessness too.
Communities in Built for Zero often start by focusing on the veteran and chronic population, with the goal of expanding these results to other populations as they work toward ending homelessness for all. This includes all single adults, youth, and families.
“Once you’ve ended homelessness for one group, nothing seems impossible,” said Julia Orlando, director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Services Center and Built for Zero community lead in Bergen County.
8. Communities have sustained an end to veteran homelessness.
Functional zero isn’t a finish line: it’s a continuous reality that must be protected. Once communities reach functional zero a first time, they must keep working to maintain a system where homelessness is rare overall, and brief when it occurs.
Communities like Rockford, Illinois, and Bergen County, New Jersey, sustained an end to veteran homelessness. Since people will continue to enter into homelessness, functional zero is a measure of how resilient and responsive a communities’ homeless response systems can be to the needs of people at risk of, and experiencing, homelessness.
“It just doesn’t stop once you reach functional zero. We have to have systems in place to keep that momentum,” Erica Holmes from Crater Region, Virginia. “Because people are going to continue to have housing crises but if we can catch it and connect them to a resource, we’re doing our jobs.”
Bergen County, Fremont County, Gulfport/ Gulf Coast Regional, Lake County/ North Chicago, Rockford/Winnebago, Boone Counties COC, Texas Balance of State COC- Abilene, Virginia Balance of State- Petersburg | functional zero, veteran homelessness
In January 2019, communities across America identified 37,085 homeless veterans during point-in-time counts. This represents a substantial decrease (43.3 percent) in the number of homeless veterans counted in 2011. Though veterans continue to remain over represented in the homeless population in America, these recent decreases demonstrate the marked progress that has been made in ending veteran homelessness.
Why do veterans experience homelessness?
Veterans are more likely than civilians to experience homelessness. Like the general homeless population, veterans are at a significantly increased risk of homelessness if they have low socioeconomic status, a mental health disorder, and/or a history of substance abuse. Yet, because of veterans’ military service, this population is at higher risk of experiencing traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both of which have been found to be among the most substantial risk factors for homelessness. A 2015 study of veterans initiating medication-administered treatment screened each of these patients for risk of homelessness and found that the prevalence of homelessness in veterans with opioid use disorder is 10 times more than the general veteran population.
Among the recent Iraq and Afghanistan cohort of veterans—who are more frequently female than their older counterparts—an experience of sexual trauma while serving in the military greatly increases the risk of homelessness. Additionally, veterans often experience difficulty returning to civilian life, particularly those without strong social support networks, and may not have skills that can be easily transferred to employment outside of the military. Veterans face the same shortage of affordable housing options and living wage jobs as all Americans, and these factors—combined with the increased likelihood that veterans will exhibit symptoms of PTSD, substance abuse, or mental illness — can compound to put veterans at a greater risk of homelessness than the general population.
What federal programs serve homeless veterans?
Homeless veterans can receive assistance both from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), provided they have an eligible discharge status, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), regardless of discharge status. In a joint supportive housing program between the two departments (HUD-VASH), Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers housing vouchers are combined with case management and supportive services at VA medical centers. Since 2008, over 97,500 HUD-VASH vouchers have been awarded to Public Housing Authorities across the US. Evaluation of the HUD-VASH program has found a number of positive outcomes for participants, including an increase in employment and income, the number of days housed, and social networks. Additionally, the HUD-VASH program has been found to have a one-year cost savings of approximately $6,000 per participant on health services.
In 2012, VA introduced the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, with the parallel goals of both preventing veteran homelessness and rapidly re-housing veterans and veteran families who do fall into homelessness. The program provides a variety of time-limited services and financial assistance. In 2015, the SSVF program aided over 157,000 individuals, of which nearly 99,000 were veterans and over 34,000 were children. After being housed, only 9.4 percent of veteran families returned to homelessness one year after exiting the program, and only 15.5 percent returned to homelessness two years after exit.
SSVF and HUD-VASH are the main response to veteran homelessness in many communities however, there are numerous other resources for assisting veterans in a housing crisis. The Grant and Per Diem transitional housing program and Domiciliary Care programs funded through the Veterans Health Administration offer temporary assistance to veterans as bridge or crisis housing. The Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program under the Department of Labor assists homeless veterans with employment skills and job searches.
Are we ending veteran homelessness?
In 2009, then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, in tandem with President Barack Obama, set forth the audacious goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015. Current VA Secretary Robert Wilke also supports this goal. To help secure commitments to this goal, in June 2014 First Lady Michelle Obama announced the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Since its launch in 2014, the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness has helped 78 communities and three states to achieve this goal.
In January 2015, New Orleans became the first major city to announce that it had ended veteran homelessness. The success of SSVF, HUD-VASH, and other programs targeted to veterans, combined with the dedication and commitment of America’s communities prove that ending veteran homelessness is possible.
Abilene officially ninth city in US to end veteran homelessness
Texas is working to be one step closer to housing all veterans. The federal government has recognized the city of Abilene as one of just a handful of US cities to effectively end veteran homelessness. What that means is the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in that community is less than the average number of veterans connected with permanent housing each month.
“Where am I going to eat tonight, where am I going to sleep?”
A question a lot of veterans must ask themselves every day is “Where am I going to eat tonight, where am I going to sleep?” Some go years of asking themselves those questions daily wondering and hoping that their situation would soon change.
Veterans often suffer from anxiety, depression, and PTSD, but cannot afford the treatment and assistance and in turns comes from the fact of not having a home or not knowing where their next meal will come from.
The City of Abilene and surrounding organizations in the region are being recognized for making efforts to assist veterans so they don’t have to ask themselves those troubling questions. Abilene officially became the ninth city in the nation to provide permanent housing for all its’ veterans. They did this by constructing a system of case workers, gathered housing and veteran groups, and implemented data-tracking of the population of homeless veterans in the region.
The Texas veterans commission is providing grants for houses as well as other living expenses like food, rent, utilities, counseling, and even job training. Implementing this help in other cities with a high rate of homelessness would essentially help get homeless veterans get off the street, get healthy, and thrive in the community.
Starting this month, the Texas Veterans Commission will dole out nearly $16 million in grants over the next 2 years to organizations in Texas working with people experiencing homelessness. Abilene’s next step is working to find permanent homes for people who are chronically homeless – meaning they experience homelessness for a year (or 12 months over a 3-year period). The 25 cities initiative includes Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tucson, and Honolulu. In Texas – several cities have announced and end to veteran homelessness – including Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. As of last week – 3 states have announced an end to veteran homelessness including Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia.
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