Writer: Chanel Tillman
JACKSONVILLE, Fla – According to the National Coalition for the Homeless far too many veterans are homeless – between 529,000 and 840,000 – at some time during the year. In the U.S. as of 2014, more than 300,000 veterans were living on the street or in shelters on any given night, representing 26 percent of the homeless population. Florida has the second highest homeless veteran population in the country. “Changing Homelessness”, formerly “The Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of North Florida” (ESHC) is putting forth efforts to effectively end veteran homelessness by the years end.
“Changing Homelessness” provides leadership, advocacy, support, standards and funding to carry out their mission of guiding a community effort in preventing and ending homelessness. They are the Lead Agency for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Continuum of Care (CoC) grant. This grant allows the organization to train and foster communications between their 50 member agencies providing direct services to those in need.
They developed, maintain, and manage the “by name” list of all homeless to include Veterans, a national best practice. “We are one of 71 ‘Zero: 2016’ communities”, said Dawn Gilman, CEO/Executive Director, “using local data and evidenced based national best practices to reach functional zero for homeless Veterans by the end of this year”. “Zero: 2016” is a movement of 71 communities working to end veteran homelessness by the years end and chronic homelessness by the end of 2016.
“Changing Homelessness” conducts an annual Point-In-Time Count (PIT) as required by HUD in the North Florida region. This is a national, annual one-day survey of the homeless population. In 2014, the PIT reported 224 veterans were counted and noted a 31 percent decrease in veteran homelessness from the year before. “Veteran homelessness decreased again for the 2015 PIT”, Gilmore reported. Currently there are 183 known homeless Veteran’s on the ‘by name’ list. This is a decrease of 141 from the previous year.
Veterans Inc. reports six primary causes of homelessness with lack of income due to limited education and lack of transferable skills form military to civilian life topping the list. The second and third causes are combat-related physical and mental health issues and disabilities. The last three causes are substance abuse problems interfering with job retention, weak social networks due to problems adjusting to civilian life and lack of services.
Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) is a federal rapid rehousing and homeless prevention program for Veterans that has been put in place to aid in the prevention and eradication of veteran homelessness. The grants will serve approximately 430 homeless and at-risk Veteran families. It will also help the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and community organizations reach out and prevent at-risk Veterans from losing their homes.
The organization plans to tackle ending chronic homelessness by the end of 2016. When a person or family has been homeless continuously for at least one year or has had more than three stints of homelessness over the last three years this is referred to as chronic homelessness. “I think we should be clear that our goal is to end homelessness, period, starting with veterans”, Gilman said.
The organization has resources for veterans, when speaking of ending homelessness. They are closing the gap on the remaining resources needed for the effort in ending chronic homelessness. As for two of the biggest unmet needs, families and youth, more resources are needed.
What can the community do to assist in the organization’s efforts? Gilman said, “Be informed, advocate, volunteer, and donate”. Community involvement can be a big asset to the organization’s efforts. For more information on how to get involved, visit http://www.changinghomelessness.org.