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VA launches 25 Cities Initiative to end Veteran homelessness in communities with highest concentrations

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has launched the 25 Cities Initiative to help communities with high concentrations of homeless Veterans to intensify and integrate their local efforts to end Veteran homelessness by 2015.  This is a joint effort by VA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and local community partners (city government, housing authorities, community providers) to identify by name all of the remaining homeless Veterans  in their respective communities and work together to find permanent housing solutions for these Veterans and chronically homeless individuals. The Home Depot Foundation is a sponsor of the initiative.

The VA has contracted with Atlas Research, in partnership with the 100,000 Homes Campaign (Community Solutions) and the Rapid Results Institute to design and implement the program. 

Read VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel’s welcoming remarks at the 25 Cities launch on Washington, DC on March 28, 2014.

Good morning, everyone.  It is my pleasure to welcome you to this milestone event in ending the blight of Veteran homelessness in America.

I want to especially welcome Mayor Vince Gray. Let me also recognize VA’s partners in the 25 Cities Initiative, Kelly Caffarelli of The Home Depot Foundation, and Rose Ann Haggerty from Community Solutions—thank you both for your commitment and for your ongoing partnership with VA and our community partners to ending Veteran homelessness. 

Leaders and members of the public and private homeless and other advocacy organizations who are here today—thank you for joining forces with us.

I thank my VA colleagues for being here today as well, especially Lisa Pape, director of our Homeless Programs Office, and Vince Kane, director of our National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans.

Veteran homelessness is an issue of great concern to me personally, as I know it is to all of you. Many of you have been working on this difficult problem for a long time—thank you for all you have done, and for all you will continue to do in the future.

Five years ago, President Obama set our nation on a course to prevent Veterans from ever having to experience the desperation of homelessness. He challenged us to have “zero tolerance” for a Veteran—any Veteran—sleeping on the streets after serving their country in uniform.

The initiative we are launching today reinforces the President’s and our own “zero tolerance” for this national tragedy. It takes us one step closer to our goal—bringing to zero the number of Veterans and families without a home in our rich and powerful nation.

Since the implementation of VA’s five-year plan to end Veteran homelessness, and the First ever Federal Strategic plan, we have made significant investments, built infrastructure, forged partnerships, and implemented programs to ensure Veterans get the support they need to free themselves from homelessness.   

The President and Congress have provided the resources to get the job done—$1.6 billion for fiscal year 2015, an increase of almost 18 percent over the 2014 budget level. “Housing First” is the evidence-based strategy that our interagency partnerships employ. At the same time, we are ensuring needed support services for Veterans, and for the collateral victims of homelessness—children and families.   

Working with state and local organizations … business and industry … Veterans service organizations … and first responders, we have broadened continuums of care to take homeless Veterans off the streets and bring them back into our communities and workforce.

Together, we have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. We have achieved meaningful results by reclaiming one human life at a time.

The Point-in-Time, or PIT count, is the barometer of our progress. Despite challenging economic times, the number of homeless Veterans has steadily declined.

The 2013 count stands at 57,849—an 8 percent decline from 2012, and a 24 percent decline since 2010—evidence that our strategies, plans, and efforts are paying off. Much of the credit for these accomplishments goes to you, and to the cities, organizations, and agencies you represent. But as we all know, there’s a lot more to do.

As Secretary Shinseki has said from the beginning of our war on Veteran homelessness—the battles will be uphill as we get closer to our goal.

The toughest engagements lie ahead over the coming year, as we push forward to rescue the most troubled Veterans from our streets—those for whom other programs haven’t worked, and those with significant behavioral issues or severe mental illness and addiction.   

If we are to succeed in helping them, continuity in our work counts. Resourcefulness counts. Partnerships count. And perseverance counts most of all.  

The purpose of our 25 Cities Initiative is to take what we’ve learned—the collective body of knowledge about how to end homelessness—and use that knowledge to create more advanced and coordinated systems. And then customize those systems to address the challenges faced by your individual communities and cities.   

Let me be clear: this is not a new program. It is the next logical step in reaching our goal of ending homelessness—a consolidated effort to give localities the added traction they need to accelerate planning, eliminate barriers, and grow effective interventions already underway.   

It builds on the progress public and private sector organizations have made by expanding the focus to accommodate the housing needs of all populations experiencing homelessness, including children, families, and others.   

In our work together, we will focus on three key areas:

  • First, building an intake system for matching homeless Veterans and the chronically homeless to the housing and specific support services they need;
  • Second, strengthening and integrating the data systems for these two groups; and
  • Third, merging VA’s own homeless resources and assets with a broader effort aimed at ending chronic homelessness.

VA resources will be at work to support your local communities. Our medical centers, in particular, will play a key collaborative role in connecting Veterans to health care, housing, job opportunities, and benefits.

Individually and collectively—as front-line advocates for homeless Veterans—your expertise, experience, and insights are crucial to ending homelessness.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was right when he said: “The people in the field are closest to the problem, closest to the situation, therefore, that is where the real wisdom is.” That statement cuts to the heart of our 25 Cities Initiative.  

As we approach 2015, we must quicken our pace. We must redouble our efforts and demonstrate the value of partnerships by leveraging the best evidence-based practices, and integrating proven methods and protocols that will end Veteran homelessness once and for all. 

We have less than two years to make good on our promise to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen who defended our nation. We must marshal our collective resources for the final push to rescue the homeless today, and prevent homelessness tomorrow. Thank you for lending your support to this effort.

 May God bless our Veterans, and may he continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.

Thank you.