Governor McAuliffe announced last week that Virginia is the first state to “functionally end veteran homelessness.” There have already been news stories and talk of this in the community, and there will be more. But before you say, “Wait! How can that be? I still know of veterans who are homeless in my community today,” we wanted to provide some context.
In 2010, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs estimated that 76,000 veterans were sleeping on American streets at night. While only 8% of Americans can claim veteran status, 17% of the United States homeless population was made up of veterans at the time. Our country and our community has been working to change that in the last five years, and has set a deadline of ending veteran homelessness by the end of this year.
It’s a challenge that our city mayor signed onto, and through the collaboration of community service providers—Micah, Thurman Brisben, Empowerhouse, Hope House, Quin Rivers, Central Virginia Housing Coalition, Virginia Wounded Warrior Project and the Veteran’s Administration—the community IS accomplishing that goal.
At the end of last week, the Fredericksburg region had seven veterans who were still living on the street or in a shelter. Five are in process to be housed within the next 30 days. That means the resources are in place and community partners are actively working to identify an available housing unit. The remaining two are being supported in the development of a housing plan that will be implemented in the next 60 to 90 days. A total of 58 veterans have passed through the homeless system, and subsequently been housed since April of this year.
While the point in time numbers may not be a physical zero, the governor’s announcement is based on an understanding that there is a system in place and it is working. How do we know it is working? Well… when you look at the number of veterans who are reported homeless across the state and compare it with the rate in which communities are housing those individuals, the math indicates that every veteran who is homeless today CAN be housed within 90 days. It does not mean that in those 90 days no new veterans will enter the homeless system. It is simply point in time numbers and what service providers have proven they can do in a short period of time with the resources available.
At the end of the day, whether the numbers are 7 or ZERO in our community, an end to homelessness will always mean that the system is in place for life on the street or in shelter to be rare, brief and non-recurrent. When you work on issues of human suffering, the target is always moving. The success is really grounded in how well we are prepared to respond, be it programmatic structures or the resources available. We have to keep talking about that in order to continue fueling a true crisis response.
Micah is so deeply thankful for the ways the community has supported this effort, invested in the cause and believed in those of us doing the work every day. May we continue to keep our eyes on the prize as we work to sustain what has been achieved and expand our focus to chronic homelessness next year.