Proving the Case that We Can and Must End Homelessness

I was honored to be in Richmond, Virginia, on Veterans Day to be a part of Governor McAuliffe’s historic announcement that the Commonwealth had effectively ended Veteran homelessness. That announcement was followed by a memorial wreath-laying ceremony at the beautiful Virginia War Memorial, a powerful reminder of the urgency of helping every Veteran who is experiencing homelessness today.

Veterans Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifices our service members have made for us, and what we owe them for that sacrifice. I think I speak for all Americans when I say that one thing we certainly owe them is the opportunity of a place to call home. The Commonwealth of Virginia, and all the other communities that have achieved this amazing milestone, have honored that commitment to Veterans and serve as profound examples to the rest of the country that we can, in fact, end homelessness.

Virginia — and places like Syracuse, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Winston-Salem — know that ending homelessness does not mean that no one will ever experience a housing crisis again. And unfortunately, we know that some of those crises will escalate into homelessness. That’s the reality.

But it is also the reality that we can ensure that our communities have the systems in place to make sure that homelessness can be prevented whenever possible. And when we can’t prevent it, we can ensure that it is a rare, brief, and one-time experience.

I know that vision has driven and continues to drive the work in communities across the country. But it takes more than just a vision. As Governor McAuliffe said on Veterans Day, it takes strong partnerships. In Virginia, state partners, including the Governor’s office, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Housing and Community Development, provided key leadership, engaging and supporting local partners and VA Medical Centers, and enlisting the help of private-sector partners.

One particularly innovative partnership is between the Department of Veterans Services and Virginia Dominion Power to expand its EnergyShare Program to provide $500 energy vouchers to up to 1,000 newly housed Veterans each year to assist them with their utility needs.

Another crucial thing is political leadership. We would not be here today if it weren’t for the leadership of Governor McAuliffe and all the mayors and other officials across Virginia — and across the country — who made ending Veteran homelessness their mission and signed on to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

It is important to remember that this vision does not end by crossing a single finish line. I know no one in Virginia or Houston or Troy, New York, woke up last week and thought “We’re done. Let’s move on to something else.” This shared vision requires more of us and reflects values that I know are so evident within the men and women serving in our military and within our country’s Veterans. Values like: Determination. Persistence. And continued vigilance — not just today, but every day. We must ensure that our success today is sustained tomorrow, next month, next year, and into the future.

After more than 20 years in this work, it was amazing to be in Virginia talking about how the Commonwealth had achieved the goal of effectively ending Veteran homelessness. I hope everyone recognizes its significance — it is nothing short of historic.

We have definitively moved past being able to talk about ending homelessness as an aspirational goal to knowing that it is an achievement that we can define, that we can use data to describe, that communities can measure their progress toward, and that we have examples that we can point to and learn from. And if we know that we CAN end homelessness, then we also know that we MUST end homelessness for every Veteran, for every Virginian, New Yorker, Floridian, for every American.