By Elisha Harig-Blaine, Principal Housing Associate (Veterans and Special Needs), National League of Cities
During the 1980s, 90s and into this century as homelessness rose in cities across the country, many thought it was an intractable problem. Some communities resorted to just trying to move people along, with sit/lie ordinances and bus tickets out of town. Efforts to address the underlying problems were lacking.
However, in recent years, there has been dramatic progress across the nation in the effort to end homelessness thanks to bold leadership, unprecedented community collaboration and historic levels of federal resources. These elements are being paired with data-driven strategies that have resulted in a decline for one subpopulation that we can all celebrate. Since 2010, veteran homelessness has declined by 33 percent, paving the way for progress in other subgroups of the homeless population.
Dedicating more resources
Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows fewer homeless veterans than chronically homeless individuals or people in families. The lower number of homeless veterans is a result of historic levels of resources dedicated to this subpopulation and the use of proven strategies.
Broad bipartisan congressional support exists for programs, administered by HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, that span the spectrum of housing need. As the capacity of programs such as HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, Supportive Services for Veteran Families and the Grant and Per Diem program have increased, the number of homeless veterans has steadily fallen.
In South Carolina alone, there are 685 HUD-VASH housing vouchers being used to support homeless veterans. Additionally, nonprofits across the state are administering millions of Support Services for Veteran Families dollars. In 2014, South Carolina received $2 million from SSVF.
Federal resources have been complemented by philanthropic commitments. The Home Depot Foundation has committed more than $83.7 million that has helped cities build or preserve more than 13,000 units of housing for veterans. In addition, volunteer groups of Home Depot associates known as Team Depots have worked on more than 3,780 projects building or improving homes for veterans. In South Carolina, The Home Depot Foundation has invested nearly $500,000 and volunteer support in 59 housing projects benefitting veterans.
When these federal and philanthropic investments are combined with the unique health and service benefits available to veterans and mainstream antipoverty resources, cities are showing they have the necessary resources to end veteran homelessness.
To build on the progress of the past four years and meet the federal goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the creation of a Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. To date, more than 220 mayors, county officials, and state leaders have pledged their support.
To date, 12 South Carolina mayors (Aiken, Anderson, Charleston, Columbia, Conway, Florence, Greenville, Greenwood, North Charleston, Rock Hill, Spartanburg and Summit) have accepted the challenge to end veteran homelessness.
For information on how the National League of Cities can help your community end veteran homelessness, email firstname.lastname@example.org.