November 22, 2015

Sunday Soundbite: Ending Veteran Homelessness (And Hopefully All Homelessness)

When we talk about homelessness, we often speak as though the problem is utterly insurmountable.

But it's not.

We have cities and even one state, right now, that are making huge strides against this social ill, in sometimes surprising ways.

In Salt Lake City:

The story of how Utah solved chronic homelessness begins in 2003, inside a cavernous Las Vegas banquet hall populated by droves of suits. The problem at hand was seemingly intractable. The number of chronic homeless had surged since the early 1970s. And related costs were soaring. A University of Pennsylvania study had just showed New York City was dropping a staggering $40,500 in annual costs on every homeless person with mental problems, who account for many of the chronically homeless. So that day, as officials spit-balled ideas, a social researcher named Sam Tsemberis stood to deliver what he framed as a surprisingly simple, cost-effective method of ending chronic homelessness. 
Give homes to the homeless. 
Tsemberis’ research, conducted here in the District and in New York City, showed this wouldn’t just dramatically cut the number of chronically homeless on the streets. It would also slash spending in the long run. In the audience sat a Utah businessman named Lloyd Pendleton. He had just taken over the Utah Housing Task Force after a successful run in business. He was intrigued. “He came over to me and he said, ‘I finally just heard something that make sense to me,'” recalled Tsemberis in an interview. “‘Would you be willing to come to Utah and work with us?'” 
That conversation spawned what has been perhaps the nation’s most successful — and radical — program to end chronic homelessness. Now, more than a decade later, chronic homelessness in one of the nation’s most conservative states may soon end. And all of it is thanks to a program that at first seems stripped from the bleeding-heart manual. In 2005, Utah had nearly 1,932 chronically homeless. By 2014, that number had dropped 72 percent to 539. Today, explained Gordon Walker, the director of the state Housing and Community Development Division, the state is “approaching a functional zero.” Next week, he said, they’re set to announce what he called “exciting news” that would guarantee an “even bigger headline,” but declined to elaborate further.

Read the full story here.

In Phoenix (from a Q & A with their mayor):

Q: What worked best? 
A: If there are real heroes of this story, these are the navigators. Navigators are the people that, working through community non-profits ... go out on the streets and they talk to these homeless individuals, try to coax them into a housing situation. ... Most of the navigators are formerly homeless themselves. Many of them are veterans themselves. 
And then the key is this: Make sure you have the support services. It's one thing to put a roof over a chronically homeless veteran, but it's another thing to provide the support services to keep them off the streets. Mental health services. Health care. Maybe it's substance-abuse treatment. So you got to make sure you have not just the housing but the support services to break the cycle of homelessness. 
Q: You used a model called 'Housing First.' 
A: In the old model, if somebody had, for example, a substance-abuse issue but they couldn't break their habit, they would no longer be eligible for housing. In a Housing First model, we understand that if someone has been on the streets for a long time, and been abusing drugs or alcohol for a long time, it may take awhile for them to be able to break that issue in their lives. So the fact that they're continuing to use, you don't have them lose their housing. ... 
Our retention rate, our success rate using this model has been 94%, significantly above the national average.

Read the full story here. 

And finally, in Virginia:

RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced Wednesday that Virginia is the first state to meet the federal definition of effectively ending homelessness among military veterans. 
“Folks, there is a reason why we are the greatest state in America. We are because we take care of our veterans,” McAuliffe said at a ceremony at a Richmond veterans memorial.

Read the full story here.

These are huge gains with massive success rates. We're one step closer to ending chronic homelessness--let's continue to push and demand that our legislators look into these evidence-based programs.

Have a happy Sunday!

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