The Obama administration has set a goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015, but one city reached that mark a year early.
Phoenix announced last week that it has eradicated chronic veteran homelessness — making it the first city in the country to do so — after it housed an additional 56 veterans on Wednesday.
Chronic homelessness is defined as an individual who has experienced homelessness for at least a year or has gone through four episodes of homelessness in the past three years and has a disability. Ending chronic homelessness is particularly important because, even among the homeless population in general, they have the highest rates of health and substance abuse problems, which also puts the most strain on emergency services to treat them.
Three years ago, city officials identified 222 homeless veterans living in Phoenix. Using both state and federal funds, the city had successfully housed the last veterans who were living without homes. They did so through an innovative idea known as “Housing First” — providing somewhere to live for homeless individuals without first requiring that they be sober or drug-free. The thinking goes that homeless individuals with drug or alcohol problems will be far more capable to address these issues if they first have a stable place to live. Housing First works best when it’s coupled, as it was in Phoenix, with supportive services like job training and health care.
In 2009, President Obama and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced aninitiative to combat veteran homelessness with the goal of housing every veteran in the country by 2015. The most recent nationwide homeless count found 57,849 homeless veterans in the United States, fully 12 percent of the total adult homeless population. Though that number is still unbearably high, it represents a 24 percent decline over the past four years.
Still, the pace will need to pick up substantially in the next 24 months if the Obama administration is to meet its goal of ending veterans’ homelessness by 2015. Shinseki, however, remains optimistic, saying in November that “We are on the right track in the fight to end homelessness among veterans.”