Which is very good news that the veterans who served this country are being taken care of, though this report from Governing Magazine tends to disparage it a bit, forgetting that those who have served their country as a member of the armed services deserve special help because of their special service, but nevertheless, a good article.
A week before Christmas, Georgia Alexander found herself staring at her first apartment lease in six years. For the past few months, she had been living out of her car while her 6-year-old son, Jaylin, stayed with relatives. When she was pregnant with Jaylin in 2009, her doctor recommended that she leave her job at Target, where she unloaded trucks and stocked the store. She had been unemployed and frequently homeless ever since.
Now her homelessness was ending, and it was clear why: She’s a military veteran.
For 13 years, Alexander was a workgroup manager in the U.S. Air Force, installing software and making minor repairs to office computers. She lived all over, from Dayton, Ohio, to South Korea. But she grew up in the District of Columbia, and that’s where she returned after leaving the service in 2006.
In December, Alexander attended a “meet-and-lease” event for homeless veterans hosted by the D.C. Housing Authority. More than a dozen vets came hoping to find a place to live. Landlords sat at a long table, ready to offer apartments to those who had federal rental vouchers. Alexander had all her documents in order. As she filled out her paperwork, a D.C. housing official nodded and said, “Home for the holidays!” Afterward, Alexander hugged the housing official, a woman she had just met, and cried. “It’s just a relief of stress for me,” she said. “I finally have a place for me and my son.”
There are many stories like Alexander’s in the District of Columbia. The number of homeless veterans in the nation’s capital has declined by 36 percent since the end of the recession. And the district isn’t alone. Nationally, nearly 48,000 veterans were homeless on a single night in January 2015, representing a 35 percent drop from 2009. The reductions have been so dramatic in some places — New Orleans, Houston, Las Vegas — that at least a dozen mayors and one governor now say they’ve effectively eliminated homelessness among veterans.
But most people who are homeless are not veterans. And in many of the nation’s large cities, homelessness among the general population appears to be getting worse. Comparing 2009 and 2015, one-night counts revealed major increases in homelessness in Seattle-King County (up 13 percent), Los Angeles (up 24 percent) and New York City (up 53 percent). In the Portland, Ore., area, overall homelessness has gone down in the last few years, but since 2010, the number who live outside the shelter system — in cars, in abandoned buildings or on the street — has climbed almost 19 percent. Last fall, the mayors of Portland and Seattle declared states of emergency because of the rise in unsheltered homelessness, as did the governor of Hawaii. The mayor of Los Angeles also declared the situation in his city an emergency, though he eventually abandoned a plan to seek emergency legal powers.
The problems facing Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle should be familiar to political leaders in other large cities. According to counts conducted in 2014 and 2015, overall homelessness in the nation’s 50 largest urban areas increased by 3 percent during that one year. The number of unsheltered individuals in those cities went up 10.5 percent. The number of unsheltered people in homeless families grew by 18.8 percent. It’s the family problem that threatens to undo much of the progress made in recent years.
Homelessness among veterans continues to decline in large cities for one reason: A federal strategy to deal with it has actually worked. In 2009, the Obama administration set a goal of ending veteran homelessness in six years. To do this, Congress expanded rental vouchers for veterans, and federal agencies emphasized a “housing first” model, in which people could move into an apartment while receiving help to address employment, mental health or addiction issues. But the same strategy hasn’t been scaled up to help the 89 percent of the homeless population who are not veterans. In growing cities with a scarcity of affordable apartments, cuts to federal housing assistance have only made the problem worse.
Right now, it’s hard to say whether success in lowering homelessness will be limited to veterans, or whether this will be the first step in a longer campaign to fight homelessness among the rest of the population.