Phoenix and Salt Lake City have ended chronic homelessness among veterans. Why can’t San Diego follow their example?
By John Lawrence
Phoenix has become the first city to end homelessness among veterans. The Obama administration had set a goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015, but Phoenix reached that mark a year early. After housing the last 56 veterans a week before Christmas, Phoenix announced that it had eradicated chronic homelessness among veterans in that city.
Phoenix and Salt Lake City had been involved in a frierndly competition to see which city could end chronic homelessness among veterans first. Phoenix won, but Salt Lake was not far behind.
The fact that Phoenix and Salt Lake City Mayors had gotten involved in the homeless issue was a significant reason why this problem has been solved in those cities. In an effort to raise awareness about veteran homelessness, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker proclaimed November “Housing Veterans Month.” In response, roughly 40 landlords contacted the city to say they had units available for veterans. Becker had also engaged Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton in a friendly competition to see whose city could end chronic veteran homelessness first.
“That’s where your mayors make a big difference,” says Tamara Kohler, director of Utah’s community services office. As the city leader, Becker could highlight veteran homelessness and convene important stakeholders, such as the city’s public housing authority and landlords.
According to the Washington Post:
The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA have awarded millions of dollars in grants to local groups helping to further the cause. In July, for example, the VA announced that it had awarded nearly $300 million to more than 300 community agencies to help homeless or at-risk veterans and their families.
Phoenix used more than $6.5 million in federal grants to fight homelessness this year, the city said in its statement. And the City Council provided an additional $1.8 million in general funds to help combat homelessness.
And this was not an entirely altruistic action. The city fathers calculated that it would be cheaper to house the homeless veterans than to deal with the strain on emergency services to treat them for health, substance abuse and other emergency services. They call their brainchild “Housing First” and don’t require the veterans to be alcohol and substance abuse free first.
Now that the Housing First model has taken hold, it should be a no brainer to extend this to the entire chronically homeless population. With half the homeless being children, US Mayors need to step up to the plate and give this issue the highest priority. It has always been a cop-out to require people to be little angels before they could be given social services. The wisdom is that the veterans will be in a better position to deal with their substance abuse problems after they are housed rather than before.
Will the City of San Diego follow the examples of Salt Lake City and Phoenix? It probably depends on who’s elected Mayor. Alvarez will be receptive to the idea. Faulconer… not so much. He represents the downtown developers and tourism industry. But if they were smart, they would get on board with the idea.
Nothing offends a tourist more than having to sidestep a pile of human feces in the middle of the sidewalk as they are making their way to Petco Park. Nothing is a bigger turn-off than having to run a gauntlet of homeless people camped out on ther sidewalk to get to where you’re going. Ending homelessness would not only be good for the homeless; it would be good for tourism and downtown condo sales as well. My major reason for moving out of downtown was so that I didn’t have to deal with this blight on “America’s Finest City.” That appelation should go to Phoenix now.
Phoenix was in a friendly competition with Salt Lake City to become the first to end chronic homelessness among veterans. “Phoenix can take its place as role model city for gratitude and care towards veterans,” Mayor Greg Stanton said. “We congratulate the City of Phoenix on the milestone accomplishment of being the first city in American history to end chronic homelessness for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces,” said Clarence Anthony, executive director, National League of Cities (NLC) in a statement. “For those who have served and sacrificed for the safety and security of our nation, even a single homeless veteran is one too many. We call on all cities across America to follow Phoenix’s example and work to ensure all veterans have access to safe, stable and affordable housing.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) has founded a hotline to ensure that homeless Veterans or Veterans at-risk for homelessness have free, 24/7 access to trained counselors. If you, or someone you know is a homeless veteran, call 1-877-4AID VET; ( 877-424-3838 ) to be connected with trained VA staff member.
Now that there is a model, there is no reason not to follow it. Especially since San Diego is such a veteran heavy city. We should be able to get most of the funding from the VA.
“Phoenix announced that it had eradicated chronic homelessness among veterans in that city.”
Sounds like a ‘Mission Accomplished’ statement to me. They may have ended homelessness temporarily, but to say chronic homelessness has disappeared must stand the test of (at least some) time.
Anna Daniels says
John- you consistently point out in your articles ways that we can address a myriad of pressing issues, whether those issues are climate change, gun control, or the economy. You emphasize what we can do and often what has been done in other countries. So I applaud you for not only bringing pressing problems to our attention, but doable solutions. 2014 should be the year of eliminating homelessness among our veteran population and I hope that commitment extends to everyone else in the ranks of the homeless.
John Lawrence says
Thanks, Anna. Keep up your good work as well. I enjoy reading it. Let’s get rid of plastic bags and homelessness in San Diego in 2014. Those are two things worth working towards and fighting for.
Sydell Kessler-Levy says
I am so enjoying your news articles, especially this one on homelessness. Your writing is inspirational and exciting for it’s statistics, and sensitivity to so many today topics that need to be explored and acted on. Thank you.
How wonderful our paths crossed in Sussex, NJ.
John Lawrence says
Thank you, Sydell. I remember seeing and talking with you at one of the reunions a long time ago. I went to the 50th, but doubt I’ll be going back for any more. I hope everything is going well for you, and that you didn’t get caught in that traffic jam in Fort Lee that Gov. Christie said today wasn’t his fault. Hmmm.
San Diego WILL NOT follow Phoenix, Salt Lake City or any other Housing First plan implemented by major cities, which is why San Diego has the third highest homeless rate in the country. Housing First requires using EXISTING housing and decision makers in San Diego prefer, for obvious reasons, to build new, high cost, low-income housing. The so-called “Campaign to End Homelessness” site, managed by who else but a building developer, applauds the success in Phoenix and then tells us that “Efforts are underway in San Diego to grow our permanent supportive housing stock and undertake similar efforts to end homelessness.” No worries! In 2015 we are providing another 25 homeless with a studio apartment and it will only cost us $78 million dollars. At this rate it will only cost about $30 billion and 200 years to house those who are homeless now… or $10 billion and 70 years to house 3000 homeless vets.
We can do better than this!