How to End Homelessness? Start—and Finish—With Veterans
By Elisha Harig-Blaine
Since the numbers for the 2013 Point-in-Time (PIT) survey [pdf] conducted for the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were released, there has been much discussion of the reduction in the number of homeless veterans. In 2014 there was a further decrease, totaling a 33 percent reduction since 2010. There is no debating that the progress seen in this subpopulation is cause for celebration. However, as the federal goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015 nears, there are some who question whether communities should be focusing on a single subpopulation at all, and if so, whether veterans are the correct subpopulation. While well intentioned, these debates are time-consuming and distract communities from focusing on what is a monumental opportunity to prove that homelessness is a solvable problem.
For decades, advocates have noted that limited resources allowed no real opportunity for a substantive decline in homelessness. As a result, our nation’s response to homelessness was to manage the issue with shelters and transitional housing. However, even after the introduction of the Housing First model and supportive housing strategies, the homeless population did not decline. An overall lack of affordable housing, an insufficient number of housing vouchers, declining investment in public housing, and no consistent resources for prevention or rapid re-housing have caused our homeless population to increase.
To make progress, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness's (USICH) Opening Doors plan identified priority subpopulations. In some communities, there is debate over where families or veterans should be prioritized. Some advocates have argued that focusing on families allows the impact on children to be mitigated as quickly as possible, as reducing the length of time a child lives without a home is proven to increase health and educational outcomes. While no one disputes the impact of housing on a child’s life, failing to focus on the homeless veteran subpopulation would be...