Sustaining an End to Veteran Homelessness: “What it Took to Get You There Is What It’s Going to Take to Keep You There”
When Neil Armstrong stepped out of Apollo 11, defying the weightlessness of space, his foot did what was up until that moment only an aspiration, he stepped onto the moon. Today, we are proving that the fulfillment of what was once just an aspiration is in fact tangible. We are ending Veteran homelessness in this country; as a nation, we are going where no man – or woman - has gone before.
Communities across our nation are developing the necessary crisis response systems that are quickly moving Veterans experiencing homelessness into stable, permanent housing and ensuring that homelessness among Veterans is preventable. In cases where it can’t be prevented, these crisis response systems are designed to ensure that homelessness is rare, brief, and non-reoccurring. We are getting the job done!
Getting to the place where a community has effectively ended Veteran homelessness has involved rethinking and reconfiguring how our homelessness response systems operate. Communities that have achieved this goal worked diligently to develop systems that, while unique to their respective needs, are built upon a common foundation of Housing First principles, the strategic allocation of resources, immediate access to low barrier shelter, the use of coordinated entry systems (CES)that prioritize the most vulnerable with the longest histories of homelessness, the use of transitional housing as bridge housing, and coordinated outreach and data collection. Now that they have achieved the goal, what does it take to maintain it? Here’s my perspective from the field.
Strong Political Will
One of the common elements that I’ve observed among successful communities is strong political will and support. In order to maintain their achievement, successful communities must continue to garner this support even as local administrations change. Ongoing political will ensures the continued commitment of the necessary local resources to maintain the goal. The beginning of 2016 marked a change in mayoral leadership for many communities. I know that for several, this meant bolstering their advocacy efforts so that homelessness became a priority of the new mayor’s agenda.
In addition to political will, communities must maintain and build upon the collaborative efforts created across multiple partners at the federal, state, and local levels. This will allow for the continued coordination and targeting of resources and is paramount for many communities, as it’s the first time such collaboration at this scale has ever existed. This is a truly momentous time. Maintaining these partnerships is particularly important as it relates to collaboration between a community’s outreach and data collection systems to ensure that the community continues to enumerate every Veteran experiencing homelessness, regardless of discharge status. Successful communities must “keep the love flowing” between partnering entities.
Coordinated Entry Systems
Having developed the inventory of resources necessary to create a system whose permanent housing placements quickly and fully meet the needs of newly identified Veterans experiencing homelessness, successful communities must continue to use coordinated entry systems that prioritize those with the greatest need and makes connections to the most appropriate housing intervention and services. I’ve seen this work best in communities that have strong coordinated entry systems for Veterans. Communities have found coordinated entry systems to be an invaluable tool that enables them to prioritize and target resources. Determining the most appropriate intervention can be a daunting task. My recommendation is let CES systems continue to do their work and to use their operations to identify and drive your focus toward areas that still need to be improved. It works!
Crisis Response Systems
My final thought on maintaining the achievement is that communities must continue to operate a crisis response system that makes a Veteran’s homelessness as brief as possible. As such, transitional housing should primarily be used as short-term bridge housing. Longer stays in transitional housing must be in limited cases for those Veterans who choose a longer stay after being offered a viable permanent housing choice with the appropriate services. This requires a continuation of the dialogue between community leads and transitional housing providers.
At the end of the day, I think my mother’s relationship advice is highly appropriate for successful communities: “What it took to get you there is what it’s going to take to keep you there.” Successful communities must ensure they have the necessary components in place to sustain their achievement, despite changing political, social, and economic environments. This may require a community to become more creative as they develop new strategies in the face of change. These communities have blazed a trail of proven strategies that demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach. We know how to get there, let’s stay there!