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This Monday, on Memorial Day our nation will honor the memory of the men and women who died in active military service. While we prepare to do so, it is important to look at how our military veterans are represented among our neighbors experiencing homelessness and how they are getting connected to stable housing.

Twice a year, Homeward coordinates a Point-in-Time count, a one-day regional census of people experiencing homelessness in our community. In our January 2018  count, 19.4% of the people surveyed identified themselves as veterans. This number has held relatively steady in Greater Richmond for several years. In fact, in 2015 Virginia was the first state to functionally end veteran homelessness. To functionally end veteran homelessness means that veteran homelessness is rare, brief, and one time in our community. It does not mean that no veteran will ever experience a housing crisis again, or that there aren’t still homeless veterans today. It does mean that a process is in place to effectively respond to the crisis of homelessness as it arises, and that we continue to house more veterans each month than the number who enter the homeless services system.HomewardPHC2014 9022

Like Virginia, most states have seen remarkable reductions in veteran homelessness, however, the trend does not hold nationally. In the past year some major cities saw dramatic increases in veterans experiencing homelessness, driving the national average up 1.5%.

So what drives the success of service delivery to homeless vets in communities like ours? Earlier this week, Virginia Public Radio published a story that cited taking a “Housing First” approach to homelessness as being a key factor. Housing First is a principle that focuses on solving homelessness by offering low-barrier access to housing and then offering additional services as needed to help the families and individuals exiting homelessness maintain stable housing.

While adopting a Housing First approach has been a dynamic force in our community, it isn’t the only reason the number of veterans living on the streets has decreased. Public policy, increased targeted funding, strategic cross-sector partnerships, and collaborative client-focused programming have aligned to address the specific needs of each veteran who enters into our network of homeless services. It is this collaborative effort that has worked in our community and many others to make great strides in getting homeless vets into housing, and it is through this same effort that we can see homelessness for everyone who experiences it become rare, brief, and one time.

This weekend, as you remember those who died during active military service, remember those vets who are living on the street and support the network of organizations that are working to get them into stable housing.

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