Community-Wide Partnerships and Commitments Drive Success in Central Florida
In Central Florida, the most important building blocks to success are its people. People from all walks of life including landlords, judges, outreach workers, and faith leaders have partnered with the VA Medical Center to make a difference in the lives of Veterans experiencing homelessness and the data is showing that these strong partnerships are paying off, as the number of Veterans experiencing homelessness is decreasing in Central Florida. This past month, Federal partners from HUD, USICH, and VA joined Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer to celebrate the great strides the community has taken and, even more importantly, rally the community to finish the job of ending Veteran homelessness.
Standing side by side, the Mayors addressed the crowd of a few hundred stakeholders from the community and reiterated their commitment to ensure that no Veteran should experience homelessness. They challenged the community to align resources and use what is being learned through the successes of the Mayors Challenge to inform the larger system response to all types of homelessness. The VA Medical Center Director, Timothy W. Liezert, and his staff were on hand to share the lessons learned and demonstrate the real partnerships that have emerged across the different programs and systems in the community.
Over the next several months, as the community drives toward the goal of ending Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, there are key strategies and approaches they’ll be leveraging to find success.
- The first is continuous improvement of a coordinated assessment and entry system to quickly assess those who are seeking services and to quickly connect people and families with the permanent housing opportunities they need. This is really about moving away from operating as a set of programs and agencies to a system in which every program and agency has important roles to play.
- Through data sharing and regular case conferencing between the VA Medical Center and Continuum of Care, the community will identify all Veterans experiencing homelessness by name which will help them align resources necessary to address the needs of every Veteran on their list.
- Programs in Central Florida are embracing a Housing First approach with a primary goal of providing access to housing - permanent housing.
- Finally, ending Veteran homelessness cannot be seen as the job of the VA alone – getting to the goal requires an “all hands on deck” approach, with partnerships and coordination across community partners and sectors.
This is where Central Florida really shines – the commitment and continued support of non-profit organizations, business leadership, public housing agencies, local and state governments to identify and dedicate the resources and services needed to serve Veterans who are ineligible for VA programs and services is inspiring! These partnerships and commitments, along with creative application of effective strategies will lead to success in ending Veterans homelessness and will serve as a catalyst for success in ending all types of homelessness.
As the Veterans event came to a close, a community member offered a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful” and as people stood with their hands over their hearts, I was in awe of the strong show of support by elected officials and people throughout the community. The few hundred individuals who stood in that room, stood together, strong and committed, clearly unwilling to rest until every Veteran has a home. The early data results show tremendous decreases in Veteran homelessness and I believe that Central Florida will be one of the communities to cross the finish line in 2015. I look forward to traveling back for the next celebration – effectively ending Veteran homelessness across all of Central Florida.
Amy Sawyer is a Regional Coordinator at USICH, based out of Philadelphia, PA. She is responsible for facilitating the strategic implementation of Opening Doors specifically in the Southeast and MidAtlantic regions.