Program reduces number of homeless veterans in Pennsylvania
December 18, 2015 12:00 AM
More than two dozen communities nationwide, including Lancaster, have made similar declarations after satisfying a federal to-do list for keeping veterans off the streets.
By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Philadelphia on Thursday joined a growing list of U.S. cities to announce an effective end to homelessness among veterans, reaching a bipartisan goal to tighten the social safety net.
Allegheny County may not be far behind. More than two dozen communities nationwide, including Lancaster, have made similar declarations after satisfying a federal to-do list for keeping veterans off the streets.
“We’re really close,” said Stacy Pethia, who co-chairs the Pittsburgh Rapid Results Veterans’ Homeless Boot Camp. She said the multi-agency program could bring homelessness among veterans in Allegheny County to a functional conclusion by March, at least under federal definitions.
The local effort has helped reduce to about 160 the number of homeless veterans in the county, nearly all of them in transitional housing or emergency shelters, said Chuck Keenan, the county homeless-services administrator. That’s down from about 230 overall when the program started in August 2014.
Mr. Keenan said two veterans are known to be without any shelter, down from nine in January. The county had 1,424 total homeless residents that month, the most recent tally available.
“This has really tightened up relationships and processes” among agencies and service providers, Mr. Keenan said of the boot camp program. “It just made people more aware of what was available to veterans and put that at the forefront of people’s thinking — more so than in the past.”
County, city and other organizers set out to find permanent homes for 484 veterans by Dec. 31. By this week, the drive met the benchmark for 450 veterans, including 69 who had been chronically homeless, according to the county.
The collaboration features a master list of homeless veterans. If an agency isn’t able to help one of them, other groups can step in, organizers said.
”Now everyone is having a shared conversation about it. Just having the groups convene the way we do — it helps in that effort,“ said Marlon Ferguson, executive director at Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are among more than 800 communities that have accepted the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, the push under President Barack Obama with a Dec. 31 deadline. To meet the challenge, a community must identify any homeless veterans, move them into shelter and have a plan to put them in permanent housing.
”If we do a better job of identification and prevention up front, any veteran becoming homeless will become a rare experience because we got better at stopping it in the first place. When it happens, it’s much more brief,“ said Jennifer Ho, a senior adviser on housing at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Homelessness among veterans nationwide has fallen by 36 percent since 2010, shortly after the administration announced its intention to end the problem, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For veterans still struggling, Iraq War veteran Kevin Carmichael, 33, of Brentwood has a message: There’s no dishonor in asking for help.
“I think it’s important for them to know they’re not alone,” said Mr. Carmichael, who escaped homelessness in 2013 and is working toward a degree at the University of Pittsburgh. “I think it’s important for them to know that people care.”
Adam Smeltz: email@example.com, 412-263-2625 or on Twitter @asmeltz.
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