Phoenix Ends Chronic Veteran Homelessness

written by Ian Lisman
January 13, 2014

Last month the mayor of Phoenix announced his city had reached a goal that many thought was impossible to reach. His city has ended chronic veteran homelessness. And now Salt Lake City is close behind. This month Salt Lake City's Mayor Ralph Becker said on the Melissa Harris Perry show that his city is down to just eight homeless veterans. The mayors of both these fine cities are in a friendly competition to tackle the issue of veteran homelessness, and they're both winning. How are they doing it?

Anyone who follows the work of the Alliance knows how it’s done: you work together as a community, coordinate services and programs, provide housing first, and then needed services. This is exactly what Phoenix and Salt Lake are doing. They are using fully-funded VA and HUD programs in concert with local resources and proper targeting to get those veterans with the most difficult issues of the streets first. These cities are well on their way to meeting goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

Ending veteran homelessness is a priority here at the Alliance too. Our recent Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign and award ceremony spotlight the progress the communities are making while calling for advocates and officials to redouble their efforts. To paraphrase the VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the hardest part of the climb is when you can see the summit. This is the perfect metaphor for our mission to end veteran homelessness because, believe it or not, the end of veteran homelessness is within our sight.

We have already helped and housed most of the “easy” to serve veterans, i.e. veterans who face fewer or less severe obstacles to housing stability, but many more veterans who need our help are still out there. It's true that some homeless veterans, like the eight remaining homeless veterans in Salt Lake City, may be reluctant to accept help, as Mayor Becker claimed in his interview on the Melissa Harris Perry show. That's no reason to give up on them.

Such reluctance to accept help may come from a time when veterans were asked to jump through hoops to “earn” their way into housing. Resentment from old ways of intervening on homelessness is still fresh in the minds of many veterans who have had difficulties re-integrating into society. Front line workers know that, once rapport and trust are established, though, a homeless veteran will come in from the cold. And housing will not just dramatically improve his quality of life. It will extend it.

On behalf of the Alliance, I'd like to congratulate Salt Lake City and Phoenix on their success. These cities serve as an example for every city tackling veteran homelessness and an inspiration for all who are engaged in this important work. I hope, and fully expect, more cities to make similar announcements about veteran homelessness in the near future.