Focusing on the Truths in Our Work to End Veteran Homelessness

These remarks were delivered by Matthew Doherty on May 30, 2017, at the Access to Housing Summit at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference.

Thanks, Kathryn! Congratulations again on being named Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition. We’re delighted to have the opportunity to continue to work with you and the rest of the great team at the Coalition. We’re excited to be a part of the conference again this year. Beverley Ebersold and I will be around for different sessions throughout the week. I am impressed that there are so many folks here – especially the day after Memorial Day. I appreciate the dedication of those of you who had to travel yesterday.

Quiz: Communities that Have Ended Veteran Homelessness

For those of you still operating in a different time zone, thought I’d kick the morning off with a bit of a quiz. The quiz is about how many communities have been confirmed as having effectively ended Veteran homelessness. How many people think it is about 10 communities? How many think it is about 20 communities? How about 40? It’s actually more than 50 communities now, plus the entire states of Virginia, Connecticut, and Delaware. Not all of those communities have publicly announced their achievements yet, so it was a bit of a trick question. As importantly, there are now communities in 27 different states that have effectively ended Veteran homelessness. How many of you come from communities that are on the list?

Things that I Know Are True About the Work Ahead

As I was preparing for today, I was realizing that we’re coming together at a time of uncertainty – and that things have felt uncertain for quite a while. For me, I find it helpful during times of uncertainty to focus on things that I know are true about the work we are doing together. Because even in uncertain times, there are things that don’t change, that remain true.

Thie first thing I know is true is that, in the work of ending homelessness, things are always uncertain. So I know that it is also true that you and your organizations are experts at navigating uncertainty – and I know how critically important that expertise will be for the work ahead of us.

Another thing that remains true is that, ultimately, the only thing that truly ends homelessness is access to housing – which is why I appreciate the theme and focus of today’s Summit. To achieve the job of ending Veteran homelessness everyhere, we’ll need to continue to expand access to housing – in all types of communities, for people of all income levels, and in all types of housing markets.

But it also remains true that there is no one size fits all solution. Our goal – our obligation – is to make sure that we have as many varied and tailored pathways to safe and stable housing as Veterans need to regain their footing and achieve the goals that they set for themselves.

That means we need supportive housing for those Veterans facing the most challenges.

We need rapid re-housing for those who need less intensive help to get back in a home of their own, back on their feet, and back on a path to success.

We need to make sure that Veterans have choices and can determine the pathways out of homelessness that will work best for them, including access to service-intensive transitional housing in those instances when a Veteran feels that he or she needs a greater level of support or safety for a while before moving on to a permanent home.

We also need to make sure that such pathways and choices are available to Veterans of any discharge status, so that we can truly provide opportunities for every person who signed on to serve in our military.

Another thing that remains true is that Veterans exiting homelessness need access to jobs – at wages that make housing stable and sustainable. And it’s also true that we much more work to do to fully integrate employment services and opportunities into our systems for providing housing interventions.

We must do more to engage private-sector businesses and social enterprises so that Veterans have as many opportunities as possible to reconnect with the workforce – and to put themselves and their families on successful paths to their futures.

As we work to enhance our approaches in these ways – it also remains true that we must continue to strive to become more efficient and effective with the resources that we have. Communities have made great progress in embracing Housing First practices and the most efficient solutions to homelessness. And ensuring that federal, state, local and private resources are well-coordinated and have the greatest impact possible.

But it is also true that there is still more work to be done – and some of that work will be difficult and demanding. And a part of that work that remains to be completed is the transformation of Grant and Per Diem programs being fostered through the recent GPD competition. That transformation is critical to our ability to provide access to housing for Veterans on many different pathways out of homelessness and to making sure that GPD programs can play their most effective roles within Housing First oriented systems.

Those roles include service-intensive transitional housing for Veterans who want to address specific clinical issues and bridge housing roles to make sure that we can create the safest and quickest paths to permanent housing that we can. And we need all of those roles played with low barriers to entry to ensure that no Veteran gets left behind.

Ending Homelessness is Something We Can Achieve – Communities Have Given Us That Truth

It is true that we face major challenges ahead. Unquestionably. In fact, there’s probably good reason to believe that we have at least as much hard work ahead of us as there is behind us. But we’ve never had more reason to feel confident that we’re on the right path, together. It has never felt more true to me that ending homelessness is something that we can achieve.

The 50-plus communities that have effectively ended Veteran homelessness have given us the truth that ending Veteran homelessness is possible, is measurable, and is replicable for other populations, for everyone experiencing homelessness in our country.

There’s never been more momentum for us to tackle the challenges we’ll face – the ones we can identify right now, and the ones that can’t yet see coming. Thank you for all that you are doing to tackle those challenges. We stand ready at USICH to be your partner and face those challenges together. The truth is that federal agencies do our best work when we focus on how we can support communities to do your best work.

Thank you for the opportunity to join you today – and please enjoy the rest of the conference.

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