In June of 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama announced a “Mayors Challenge” to end veteran homelessness in our cities by 2015. “Any number above zero is too many,” she said, adding, “that’s why as President my husband has vowed to end this problem once and for all.”
It is estimated that there are 50,000 homeless veterans across the nation, and that represents a 33% reduction since 2010. According to HUD Secretary Julian Castro that progress is in part because President Obama worked with Congress to fund more HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers and because of the cooperation of local elected officials working to put veterans directly into housing.
The latter has been the focus of 11 mayors in Texas including those of our largest cities. In Austin, Mayor Steve Adler, along with Senator Kirk Watson, announced in late August that they would try to find homes for the nearly 200 homeless veterans in Austin by Veterans’ Day.
The Mayor’s plan includes bringing together landlords, service providers and business leaders. Earlier this year the Texas legislature passed a bill overturning an Austin city ordinance that banned discrimination of source of income that has been used to deny housing to impoverished people. That means that the plan must include a way to incentivise or guarantee landlords that they will receive their rent on time. “There will never be a rent collection issue because rent is automatically deposited into a landlord’s account every month and is paid by reliable pay via the United States government,” Adler said. As an added guarantee, there is a fund managed by the Austin Community Foundation that anyone can contribute to.
The Mayor and Senator are also crowdsourcing help from Austinites by asking them to join the cause by lending their social media networks to raise awareness of the campaign and help find potential housing units. Specifically, residents can tweet pictures of “For Lease” signs along with the address and phone number to #HousingHeroesATX so that landlords can be contacted.
According to an email sent by the Mayor on Tuesday, they are still in need of about 100 more homes to reach their goal of “functional zero.” Functional Zero is defined as having the immediate resource to house the homeless.
Adler says that if this initiative proves successful that the city will broaden its goal to housing all of the city’s homeless population which is estimated to be about 1,875. If you would like to learn more you can visit http://housingheroesaustin.org/ for how to help in Austin, or view HUD’s national site for tips and resources to organize your community.