By Jonathan Kaupanger
Veteran homelessness at a functional zero status, that’s the goal more than 880 U.S. mayors, city and county officials, and governors are fighting to achieve – and so far, 45 communities and three states have reached this.
The latest member to join this exclusive club is Akron, Ohio.
Achieving “functional zero” means Akron has identified all veterans experiencing homelessness. The city provides shelter immediately to any homeless veteran who wants it along with service-intensive transitional housing in limited instances. Akron now has the capacity to assist veterans to move into permanent housing quickly; and has resources, plans, partnerships and system capacity in place, should any veteran become homeless or be at risk of homelessness in the future.
The idea behind ‘functional zero’ isn’t that all homeless veterans are in housing. The goal is that there is a system in place to provide assistance when requested. Since 2016, Akron’s local Veterans Functional Zero Group has placed more than 100 veterans in housing.
Akron’s Functional Zero status comes right as the Department of Veterans Affairs is dropping its goal of reaching zero homeless vets.
In a recent interview in Military Times, VA Secretary David Shulkin said he no longer thinks that zero is the right goal.
Now, the VA is working with the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness to bring down the current number of homeless vets from 40,000 to below 15,000.
This does not mean the VA is no longer working to end vet homelessness.
They are still guided by the “housing first approach” which is based on the premise that when a vet has a place to call home, they can then benefit from the supportive services they need.
Some of those services include housing solutions, employment opportunities, health care, justice and reentry-related services.
The VA is working with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, HUD along with states and localities on how to get precise information on progress.
On a national level, since 2010, more than 480,000 veterans and their families have received housing assistance – that’s a 47% decline.
Between 2015 and 2016 alone, there was a 17% decrease in homeless vets – which is quadruple the previous year’s rate of decline. Five states: Arkansas, Kansas, Montana, New York, and West Virginia reported a 40% decline during the same time period.
Nearly one-fourth of all the homeless veterans in America are living in California, and about another 25 percent are in six other states: Texas, Florida, New York, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.
The Mayors Challenge started in June 2014 when then First Lady Michelle Obama announced the commitment of 77 mayors, 4 governors and 4 county officials to meet the functional zero status goal.
Veterans and their families can call 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) for more information.