Cross-Sector Collaboration to End Veteran Homelessness

By: Shiri Yadlin, Policy Innovator

In 2010, President Obama’s Administration put forth the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, a campaign designed to inspire cities to house every homeless veteran within their jurisdictions by the end of 2015. With this deadline rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at how the country is doing.

As of December 21, 2015, fifteen jurisdictions have achieved this goal, including large urban centers such as Houston, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. Entire states such as Utah and Virginia have also completely eradicated veteran homelessness within their borders, and 1,000 other jurisdictions have pledged to do the same.

The Way Home Campaign recently announced that DC has housed over 1,300 of the 1,500 homeless veterans identified at the beginning of 2013, putting our city on track to finish the in this next year.

These achievements are nothing to scoff at. They were only possible through tireless efforts of a myriad of dedicated organizations: collaboration of governments and non-profits, social service agencies and real estate developers, social workers and bureaucrats. Governments were willing to provide vouchers, landlords willing to accept them, and case management teams outreached with perseverance, building personal relationships critical to a successful campaign.

The success of these cities and states is a beautiful example of human-centered design and collaborative innovative policy solutions coming together to create actual results. Each of the jurisdictions that have achieved the Mayor’s Challenge have done it in a similar way — using the Housing First model to place veterans in homes without preconditions, and following up that housing with wrap-around supportive services to ensure the newly-housed veterans have the support they need to be successful in their new homes. These homes are permanent, not transitional, and therefore provide a sense of ownership for the new tenants.

Studies continually demonstrate that Housing First is not only just and practically effective, but cost-effective as well. Once these individual are housed, their use of expensive emergency services such as Fire, EMS, ER, and even Jail dramatically decreases, making permanent housing much cheaper in comparison. It appears the country has finally found a way to end homelessness: giving people homes.

The recent success of Montgomery County, Maryland, the most recent of these jurisdictions to meet the Mayor’s Challenge, reminds us that chronic homelessness is a problem we know how to solve. With so many unsolvable and seemingly insurmountable policy problems we face in 2016, isn’t it refreshing to have one where we know the solution? As we seek to finish the job of ending veteran homelessness and turn our attention to chronic homelessness, now is not the time to let up.

This is a problem we know how to solve. We just need the will-power to do it.