Picture this: Jane Doe is a single adult working a full-time (40 hours per week) minimum wage job. Jane wants to rent a modest one-bedroom apartment. No matter where Jane lives in America, and regardless of whether Jane lives in a state with a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, Jane will be unable to do so.
Why? Because there’s no state in America in which a person working full-time earning minimum wage can afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.
Recently, the National Coalition for Homelessness held its annual conference here in Washington, DC.
Homeless assistance practitioners, policymakers, and advocates from around the country gathered to learn about what’s working to end veteran homelessness. The contributions of numerous officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were also featured, including a keynote from Secretary McDonald (or Bob, as he urged the audience to call him). In his remarks he touted the efforts of successful communities from New Orleans to Houston and beyond and spoke of VA’s efforts to cut through bureaucracy to get the job done.
Beyond VA’s presence, there were some major takeaways from the conference that are definitely worth sharing:
Just yesterday the mayor of Houston Annise Parker announced that her city had ended veteran homelessness. The announcement is getting a fair bit of attention in the press and online (and deservedly so), but here’s one thing those stories aren’t telling you.
Over the last two years, Houston has also reduced the number of families experiencing homelessness on a given night by 39 percent. Houston leaders attribute this progress to their investment in rapid re-housing. If they’re right, the city has more dramatic declines in its future, because they recently tripled their rapid re-housing capacity.
On any given day, hundreds of thousands of Americans experience homelessness and interact with the homeless assistance system. Fortunately, many of them will become housed. Though the end point—housing—is the most important part, the process of accessing housing can vary greatly from person to person.
The homeless assistance system offers a variety of interventions: emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, and rapid re-housing. While some of these interventions (emergency shelter and transitional housing) are designed to be temporary, others (permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing) are long-term solutions to homelessness.
Today, Houston – the fourth largest city in the country and the city with the second highest population of veterans – became the largest city to date to announce that it had effectively ended veteran homelessness. Mayor Annise Parker made the announcement alongside Secretaries Bob McDonald (Department of Veterans Affairs), Julián Castro (Department of Housing and Urban Development), and Tom Perez (Department of Labor), as part of the secretaries’ three city tour focusing on how communities can come together to end veteran homelessness.
The theme of the announcement was clear: by working together, many different agencies across Houston were able to quickly deploy resources to house over 3,650 veterans in just over three years. Collaboration in the form of regular (weekly!) coordination meetings, and efforts to align federal, local, and state resources, and a high-functioning coordinated assessment system were key components of the city’s success. Secretary Perez emphasized Houston’s success in breaking down siloes and encouraged communities to take a similar approach to ending veteran homelessness.