What does it take to end veteran homelessness? A lot of coordinated effort and comprehensive data…
Point-in-Time Count Numbers
Early this year, San Diego coordinated its annual Point-in- Time-Count (PITC), known as WeAllCount, where volunteers throughout the region count and interview people experiencing homelessness. Mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the count is conducted nationwide and organized locally by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless (RTFH), the Regional Continuum of Care Council and its affiliated agencies. The information gathered is used to identify strategies and services to help address and alleviate homelessness.
At the end of April, RTFH released numbers from the 2016 PITC, and 1,157 veterans experiencing homelessness were counted countywide. Of those, 584 were in a temporary housing situation (emergency shelters and transitional housing), and 573 were in unsheltered situations (on the street or in cars). This is an overall reduction of 224 veterans since the 2015 PITC. That’s progress, but slower than what is possible.
How Did We Get Here?
San Diego’s participation in the 25 Cities effort—a national initiative to end veteran and chronic homelessness appears to be largely responsible for this progress. San Diego joined the initiative in June of 2014, and the local effort quickly received support from Funders Together to End Homelessness, a local philanthropic group that provided significant infrastructure funding.
Through the initiative, a group of homeless service providers and other stakeholders built a small “coordinated assessment and housing placement” (CAHP) test system, which created coordinated entry points for homeless individuals to be assessed and access services and housing, while prioritizing resources on an individual basis. It focused on a person’s specific needs versus fitting a client into a one-size-fits-all program, and replaced previously used methods that were often disconnected, confusing and inefficient.The system appears to be showing success.
Are We Doing Enough?
When reviewing successes and the PITC numbers, we have to remember that almost all homelessness figures are just estimates. Some data points are very accurate and others, while still valuable, can be very rough approximations. For example, in 2015, local Veterans Affairs data showed that at least 1,013 veterans got into permanent housing and out of homelessness. But in 2016, we only saw a reduction of 224 in veteran homelessness year-over-year despite increased coordinated efforts among the city, county, VA and local agencies, and additional funding being allocated to address the issue. So why the disconnect?
A significant number of veterans become newly homeless in our county throughout each year. Our data system is not yet sophisticated enough to track the exact number. In reality, we may have housed a greater number of veterans counted in 2015 than what the data is showing, but because we don’t use a by-name list of people tallied, we don’t know how long each person has been homeless. Veterans who became homeless after the count in 2015 wouldn’t be shown until 2016’s data is released.
Data shows that our region has the capacity to solve homelessness for at least 161 veterans monthly. At that rate, the county can come very close to eliminating veteran homelessness by the 2017 PITC. The ongoing effort continues to improve placements and has reached an impressive rate, with 153 veterans placed in permanent housing this past March.
The 25 Cities initiative is up and running full-steam and was successfully merged into the Regional Continuum of Care Council in February. The new combined effort is now named “Opening Doors” and has leveraged the goals and resources of several other smaller efforts (such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families and Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s Housing Our Heroes initiative) into one focused initiative to end veteran homelessness.
This progress has been achieved by the increased coordination among existing services, landlord recruitment projects spearheaded by the city and county Public Housing Agencies, and leadership provided under the new Opening Doors Committee.
Ending veteran homelessness is possible. We’ve seen significant strides made in other states through coordinated leadership and implementation of proven best practices.
Under dedicated leadership, San Diego can do it, too. By developing a by-name list of the people counted, which would include specific information about each person’s unique needs and how long they’ve been homeless, and implementing the CAHP system countywide, we can join the ranks.
Through shared data and transparency, San Diego will track progress, celebrate successes and identify languishing barriers, with the goal of counting zero veterans on our streets and in shelters in 2017.
Michael McConnell is a philanthropist and advocate who serves on multiple local and regional homelessness advisory committees. He can be found on Facebook at Homelessness News San Diego and Twitter @HomelessnessSD.