US Could Eliminate Homelessness Among Veterans With ‘Functional Zero’ Cities

Homeless Korean War veteran Thomas Moore, 79, left, speaks with Boston Health Care for the Homeless street team outreach coordinator Romeena Lee on a sidewalk in Boston. M (AP/Steven Senne)

Homeless Korean War veteran Thomas Moore, 79, left, speaks with Boston Health Care for the Homeless street team outreach coordinator Romeena Lee on a sidewalk in Boston. M (AP/Steven Senne)

MINNEAPOLIS — Cities across America are finding some success in their efforts to eradicate homelessness among veterans.

A January 2014 report from the Housing and Urban Development Department, citing the annual Point-in-Time Count of homeless individuals in the U.S., suggested 49,933 veterans are homeless in America each day. The total represents a 33 percent drop from 2010, and efforts to house more veterans have continued grow over the past two years.

More than a dozen cities, among them Las Cruces, New Mexico, and New Orleans, have reached what’s called “functional zero,” meaning that homelessness is extremely low among veterans, with any exceptions being only temporary situations in which vets can be quickly helped into homes by local aid organizations.

Other cities are trying to follow their example. In December, city officials in Austin, Texas, announced that they’d reduced the city’s population of homeless veterans to just 100, down from 250 at the start of 2015. Mayor Steve Adler’s office told KXAN, a local NBC affiliate, that their goal is to house the remaining vets by the end of this year:

“During this process, the mayor said there are two major obstacles. Affordable housing is hard to find in Austin with occupancy rates through the roof. Also finding landlords willing to take city vouchers and rent their property out for $800 or less a month.”

Marine Corps veteran Gary Robinson, one of those who recently found a home in Austin, told KXAN what a difference it’s made for his life. “Homelessness is like the worst,” he said. “You know what I mean. Being homeless is worse than being in the penitentiary.”

After spending time living in his car, he’s now planning his graduation from a local community college with the goal of becoming an auto technician. “If I would have been homeless continuing out through my graduation I don’t know if I would have made it.”

Watch “Finding homes for homeless vets” from KXAN:

Some cities are experimenting with creating dedicated spaces to house vets. “The Six,” a housing complex for homeless and disabled veterans, opened last week in the MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Created by Skid Row Housing Trust, the energy-efficient building offers services and technology tailored to its residents’ health and wellness needs. “The light that comes into the interior building works to mitigate the effects of PTSD, which most homeless people experience at some point,” Mike Alvidrez, the nonprofit’s CEO, told CBS Los Angeles.

“Our building uses extremely low amounts of energy on both electricity and gas. And it uses very little water,” Dana Trujillo, the organization’s real estate officer, added.

Meanwhile, another growing effort involves creating “Veterans Villages,” clusters of tiny homes that are offered to veterans. Veterans Village Las Vegas has created a community of converted shipping containers in the parking lot of a former motel which also houses the recently homeless.

“We need to build housing with intensive supportive services in the housing for people who are chronically mentally ill and homeless and people who are living in acute poverty,” founder Arnold Stalk told Nevada Public Radio on Monday.

Watch “San Diego Newsmakers: Homeless Veterans” from ABC 10 News:

Another Veterans Village is growing in San Diego, where 1,200 vets are believed to be homeless, one of the highest concentrations in the country. Congress Williams, a representative of the village, told ABC affiliate KGTV that he hopes the community will not just offer housing but be a “clearinghouse for services” to help them get back on their feet.

A pilot program also recently launched in Racine, Wisconsin, to create 15 tiny homes, according to The Journal Times.

But even as efforts to aid homeless veterans grow, those without homes continue to suffer. The Los Angeles Times reported in February that the city is confiscating and destroying some tiny homes donated to the homeless, and the city council passed an ordinance in March limiting homeless people’s possessions to “what can fit in a trash bin.”

Watch “South LA Man Gives Homeless Woman New Lease On Life By Building Her Small, Portable House” from CBS Los Angeles:

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