The second session of the 113th Congress started out unusually, under a continuing resolution, or stopgap funding measure, to avert a government shutdown. This foreshadowed the rest of the year, during which congressional activity could be described as dysfunctional, unproductive, partisan, and chocked-full of manufactured crises.
In this context, 2014 was a challenging year in which advocates for homeless assistance programs fought an uphill battle. However, this did not keep homeless advocates across the country from drawing attention to the need for increased federal funding for vital homeless assistance programs in their communities. In light of the considerable challenges they faced, homeless advocates achieved some impressive gains in 2014.
In early March, the FY 2015 federal funding process commenced on an optimistic note with the release of President Obama’s Budget Proposal, which included various provisions favorable to people experiencing homelessness, among them a proposed $301 million increase for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants program. While some lawmakers expressed hope that appropriations bills would pass in a timely manner, partisan divides prevailed and gridlock soon set in.
New Orleans Mayor Mitche Landrieu announced today that his city has effectively ended homelessness among veterans by housing 227 veterans in 2014 and ensuring that all veterans who become homeless will be housed within an average of 30 days. This is a big deal. More than anything, it shows that it can be done: communities really can end veteran homelessness.
So you’re probably asking, "How did they do it?" The Alliance released a Community Snapshot today detailing some of the initiatives New Orleans undertook to address the issue. New Orleans' strategy includes aggressive outreach tactics on the street and in shelters, assigning housing navigators to each veteran, and bringing together key partners to ensure that each one had a stake in bringing an end to veteran homelessness.
New Orleans was already making serious progress in reducing homelessness. From 2007 to 2014, the city achieve an 83 percent reduction. And the city's housing providers, led by UNITY of Greater New Orleans, already had a lot of housing knowhow. But it wasn’t until Mayor Landrieu threw his support behind the initiative in July that the pieces really fell into place. As part of the First Lady’s Mayors Challenge, Mayor Landrieu committed his city to ending veteran homelessness – not by the end of 2015, the federal goal, but by the end of 2014.
January is upon us, and that means the 2015 Point-in-Time (PIT) Count is right around the corner. This year, in addition to their annual sheltered count, communities are required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to conduct an unsheltered count of people sleeping in places unfit for human habitation, such as on the street or in a park.
As part of their preparation, communities around the country are training volunteers to conduct unsheltered counts. Unsheltered counts are generally conducted on a single night in January, which means that communities must rely on volunteers to find and count as many unsheltered homeless people as possible. Volunteers are critical to the unsheltered count process, as many communities wouldn’t be able to conduct unsheltered counts without them.
Counting unsheltered homeless people is a daunting task. Not only are many unsheltered homeless people hard to find, but members of some homeless subpopulations, like homeless youth and LGBTQ individuals, congregate in different areas than larger populations and may try to avoid being identified as homelessness. Locating them requires different strategies.
Fast forward to December 31, 2015, to a the White House Press Room where President Obama is holding a press conference announcing that we have effectively ended homelessness among veterans in our country. This may seem improbable – it is in fact only 360 days away – but we learned in 2014 that it is completely possible.
2015 will be a “nose to the grindstone” year for ending veteran homelessness. There is so much money and so much know-how out in the field right now; we know what works to get veterans permanently housed, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has provided (and will continue to provide) ample funds to make it happen. There are communities that have already accomplished the goal of ending homelessness among chronic veterans – Houston and Phoenix to name a couple – and as communities across the country fan out for their annual Point-in-Time Counts, I have no doubt that we will be hearing from many, many more.
But we’ll also begin hearing from communities that have effectively ended veteran homelessness. Binghamton, NY has already made the announcement, and New Orleans is queued up to announce it this week (much more on that later in a few days).