Last year, a one-night census of Washington D.C.’s homeless population found 499 veterans living on the streets, with nearly twice as many at risk for homelessness and in need of emergency housing assistance. Though the numbers have been declining over the past few years, the pace has not been quick enough to meet the Obama administration’s goal of ending homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015.
That may be changing though, thanks to a new push in the nation’s capital.
Galvanized by the injustice of a veteran risking his life for his country only to later find himself without a home, a group of agencies and organizations known as Veterans NOW convened in August of last year to develop a plan to put D.C. on track to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. “We tried to set an unrealistic but achievable goal so we would be forced to stretch ourselves,” Adam Rocap, chief program officer at a local homeless services provider Miriam’s Kitchen and a participant in the group, told ThinkProgress.
With the help of national organizations like the 100,000 Homes Campaign and the Rapid Results Institute, Veterans NOW set out to get 225 homeless veterans, including 80 who were chronically homeless, into housing in just 100 days. The 100-day metric is a clever approach in a campaign like this because, as Rocap explained, it’s “long enough to do planning but short enough to be motivated and see measurable results.”
On Thursday, Veterans NOW released its initial results. Despite setting such a lofty goal, in the 100 days between August 9 and November 30, it was able to get 207 veterans into homes, including 96 chronically homeless vets.
The group was able to achieve this success thanks to a number of factors. It coordinated local providers of veterans’ support services in order to help direct efforts and prevent overlap. It set up tools and trained agency staff to triage potential clients and help the neediest first. The DC Housing Authority began providing the Department of Veterans Affairs with pre-inspected units, cutting the wait time for veterans with housing vouchers in half. And the group began using new, wonky tools that helped providers better do their job, such as coordinating local data with national data on homelessness to better gauge how to help.
Most of all, though, Rocap credited an unprecedented level of funding for permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing coming from the federal government.
Bolstered by its initial success, Veterans NOW is in the midst of another 100-day goal: housing 190 homeless veterans, including 56 who are chronically homeless, by March 31. With a month still to go, it is already on track to surpass this goal. Thus far, 161 veterans have been housed during this period, 84 of whom had been chronically homeless.
With these efforts, Rocap argued that D.C. could indeed reach its goal of ending all chronic veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and join cities that have already done so like Phoenix and Salt Lake City. Still, he noted, “there remains a gap of housing resources for chronically homeless veterans and we’re looking to the local government and business community to help fill it.”