What It Means to End Homelessness

As I come to the end of my first week as Interim Executive Director of USICH, I am acutely aware that there are only 11 months to reach our goal to end Veteran homelessness in 2015. But I also see communities all across the country accelerating their efforts to get the job done. We’ve already seen what’s possible when a community sets goals, focuses on permanent housing outcomes, and works together to solve problems. Just a few weeks ago, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced the city had effectively ended Veteran homelessness, becoming the first major U.S. city to achieve the goal and doing it a full year ahead of schedule. Other communities are also on track to meet the goal, and just yesterday I joined local leaders in Los Angeles as they renewed their pledge to end Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015—a pledge made more confident by their achievement of having ended homelessness for 3,375 Veterans in 2014. There’s no question that our shared goal remains in reach; our progress is proof of that. Our progress is proof that ending Veteran homelessness – and all homelessness - is possible. Right now, communities across the country are performing their annual Point-in-Time Counts, an opportunity to measure our progress as well as identify people in need—including Veterans—and connect them with a path to permanent housing.  

Last week, I had the honor of joining Mayor Landrieu at the White House, along with Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald and Special Assistant to the President Luke Tate, to talk with dozens of mayors from across the country about exactly what it takes to drive local action to end Veteran homelessness and exactly what it means to reach the goal.  Mayors are tackling this issue head-on with added momentum from First Lady Michelle Obama, who last summer launched the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. As of today, more than 442 state and local leaders have signed on—including 329 mayors. The momentum created through the Mayors Challenge builds on the incredible progress made by people all around the country who have been working passionately on this issue for years and puts us within striking distance of our goal. We must all do everything in our power to seize this opportunity now. There is no time to waste.

This is why sharing the lessons learned from New Orleans—and from other communities on a fast-track to end Veteran homelessness—is critical. It’s also important for every community to understand exactly what it means to end Veteran homelessness.  To quote Mayor Landrieu, “the work of ending Veteran homelessness never really ends. A Veteran could lose his or her home tomorrow.”  Mayor Landrieu is right. Ending homelessness does not mean that no one will ever experience a housing crisis again—this is true for Veterans and for all populations. Ending homelessness is about two things: 1) bringing the number of people experiencing homelessness down now by connecting them to permanent housing and 2) ensuring homelessness in the future is prevented whenever possible or is otherwise a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.

USICH and our partners developed specific criteria for ending Veteran homelessness to help guide communities as they grow closer to achieving the goal. We have also adopted a vision of what it means to end all homelessness. We hope these standards help to make local efforts more concrete and focused on long-term solutions.

Ending Veteran homelessness is about fulfilling a moral obligation we have to the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country. And it’s also about fulfilling a moral obligation we have to all people, to ensure that everyone has a safe, stable place to call home. We must apply the lessons learned from ending Veteran homelessness to our work on other populations. The strategies that are driving progress on Veteran homelessness—Housing First, permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, and affordable housing—are the same strategies that will enable us to end all homelessness. By ending Veteran homelessness we will have made the case that our strategies work and that investing in what’s right for the health and stability of our neighbors returns tremendous dividends to the communities we all call home.

I am honored to be with you in this effort. USICH remains fully committed to the work we began together—to end homelessness for all.

Thank you for your partnership. And please share your successes with us!