The number of homeless veterans has fallen dramatically over the last 4 years thanks to efforts by the Obama Administration and local officials. In 2009, President Obama set a goal to effective end veteran homelessness by 2015. It doesn’t look like they will reach their lofty goal by the target date, but the 1/3 drop in homeless veterans is a testament to the collaboration of multiple levels of government in conjunction with nonprofits.
The issue has been a top priority of HUD under Secretary Julian Castro. His office takes a “Housing First” approach, “ which removes barriers to help veterans obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible, without unnecessary prerequisites.” Getting a roof over their head, and connecting with them other necessary services are vital to achieving permanent housing, and the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program has been given much of the credit. VASH “combines Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance for homeless Veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
In 2014 First Lady Michelle Obama enlisted the help of the nation’s mayors by issuing the Administration’s “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.” Hundreds of mayors and local officials have answered the call.
On June 1st, Houston officials announced that it had become the nation’s largest city to create a system to house homeless veterans. Mayor Annise Parker said of the effort, “If we were going to succeed…we had to do more than end just end homelessness for veterans we were seeing today, we had to put a system in place that would work going into the future…Today, that system is in place, and there is not going to be another veteran that stays on the streets of Houston for lack of resources.”
In Austin, Mayor Steve Adler and Senator Kirk Watson set a goal of ending veteran homelessness by Veterans’ Day. Yesterday Adler announced that efforts have seen the number drop from 234 in January down to 78 currently. “Great cities do big things, and we can accomplish this together if we all do a little – though some of us have done a lot,” Adler wrote. The “Housing Heroes Fund” has raised over 40,000 since Veterans Day. The city, in partnership with community leaders and nonprofits, also just broke ground on a $14 million facility with 50 units to help house and provide services for Austin’s chronic homeless. Adler says if the initiative is successful he will support expanding it to include the entire homeless population.
One of those individuals that remain on the street is “Cowboy.” He tells his story of in the video below. He said his military training has allowed him to survive through hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather conditions. “I get stronger every day, I’m not going to give up.” A friend who shot the video has put Cowboy in touch with ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition), an organization that works to end chronic homelessness. He also started a Facebook page so you can follow his progress. Part of what keeps Cowboy on the street is a lack of ID to properly be put into the system with a caseworker, all of which is made harder by being homeless, it is part of the cycle organizations and like ECHO and Green Doors are trying to address.
Our nation faces many great challenges, but they aren’t insurmountable, and most of us have plenty to by thankful for. So this holiday season, keep someone like Cowboy in mind and consider the creed he lives by that he says he was taught as a Marine, ”adapt, overcome, and improvise, never surrender, never give up and never leave anybody behind.”