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D.C., Chicago in Dead Heat Over Veteran Homelessness

Two of the country’s most politically savvy and competitive cities are now in a tight race to end veteran homelessness by the end of the year.

In the nation’s capital, a small group of advocates is shaking things up on the ground and energizing city decision makers and service providers to get to the finish line on time. Before Chicago, that is.

Last week, local and national leaders gathered at an event at the Mount Pleasant Public Library sponsored by Veterans Now DC, a local veteran advocacy group. All signs point to the fact that D.C. has the resources to do the job, but the push will be hard.

Veterans Now DC’s boot-camp, all-hands-on-deck approach has made it possible to both expedite and maximize housing placements. In 2015 alone, the group has averaged 61 placements a month, which is truly remarkable in a destination city with so much pressure on the housing market.

In all, over 1,000 veterans have been housed since the group first assembled in August 2013.

One of Veterans Now DC’s greatest strengths is their infectious enthusiasm for the cause. There was plenty of it on display in the room last week.

Advocates like Linda Kaufman (Community Solutions), Richard Cho (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness), and Kristy Greenwalt (DC ICH Executive Director) delivered powerful speeches. When they had finished, everyone in the room had their marching orders, and the goal looked more achievable than ever.

Last year, D.C. signed on to First Lady Michelle Obama’s Mayoral Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, an indication of local commitment to solve this issue. For many in the country, the failure to address homelessness is regarded as “immoral.”

Greenwalt reminded the audience that Mayor Muriel Bowser remains fully committed to ending veteran homelessness in Washington and referenced the recent increase in D.C.’s homeless services budget.

Additionally, the Department of Veterans Affairs is spending an extra $1 million on rapid rehousing in the city this year.

Veterans Now DC is not just about motivating people. It has also developed a systematic approach to identifying individual needs among veterans and new ways to meet these needs.

Using powerful assessment tools, like VI-SPDAT,* and drawing from the new virtual Coordinated Entry System for single adults, the group has been able to determine that just three in 10 veterans need permanent supportive housing, while five in 10 need only rapid rehousing services, a shorter and less costly intervention. The remaining two in 10 veterans typically receive general housing help from the city and mainstream resources, which do not include services.

The group also works on the proven assumption that many veterans experiencing financial challenges manage to find housing on their own, taking pressure off the system from the onset.

Of the close to 1,300 veterans the group originally identified, an estimated 380 are currently still unhoused, which means the next six months will be crucial if D.C. is to beat Chicago in the race to end veteran homelessness.

Both challengers acknowledge the other city’s strengths on the system and resource sides. And both have great momentum and highly energized advocates. The race is likely to heat up even more in the fall, as the year-end deadline approaches.

Of course, D.C. advocates are not really hoping that Chicago runs out of “wind,” but some of them wouldn’t mind beating the Windy City, even if only by a day.

Wishing fair winds to both teams, I’m amazed by the results being brought about by these new ways of energizing systems in homeless services. We’re certainly trending on the ground all over the country as we build these initiatives to end homelessness everywhere and for everybody in the U.S.

*Vulnerability Index & Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool

By Jean-Michel Giraud
President & CEO, Friendship Place
Huffington Post Blogger

Read this on the Huffington Post website

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