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New philosophy turns tide for homeless Phoenix veterans
At the MANA House, the transitional housing facility for Madison Street Veterans Association, some veterans seek basic necessities like clothing. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Phoenix veterans who find themselves counted as one of the chronically homeless will by this Christmas have shelter and an opportunity to get off the streets for good.

The housing-first strategy -- a realigning of current city services through the Phoenix Housing and Human Services departments -- allows homeless families, veterans, the chronically homeless and unaccompanied youth to move into permanent housing with supportive services and individualized case management.

The program has already shown progress since it first launched two years ago. By working with several veterans-focused organizations, local officials say chronic homelessness among veterans has been reduced by 62 percent.

In April 2010 a registry effort concentrated in downtown Phoenix gave homeless advocates a glimpse into the issue facing those who are chronically homeless.

Officials anticipated at that time the program would shelter and rehabilitate 200 chronically homeless families over the next three years.

Someone who is chronically homeless is defined as experiencing homelessness for a year or longer or more than four times in the last three years, and having a disabling medical, mental or addictive condition.

Phoenix officials contend only 56 chronically homeless veterans remain on Phoenix streets since the program’s inception.

“Phoenix should be proud that we’re on track to put a roof over the head of every chronically homeless veteran in our community,” said Phoenix Mayor Stanton. “This is a team effort -- and could not have happened without many organizations and scores of people dedicating themselves to this important mission. No person should have to sleep on the street, especially those who have worn the uniform and served our country.”

Mayor Stanton made the vow to find homes for all homeless veterans on Nov. 11, Veterans Day.

On any given day there can be anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 people in Arizona who are homeless, according to the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Project H3 VETS

The program coined, “Project H3 VETS,” is a carbon copy of established permanent housing models, according to Mike Shore, Arizona Coalition to end Homelessness Board of Directors vice chairman.

“It is permanent housing with supportive services,” he said in a Dec. 3 phone interview. “This old continuum of care is outdated technology; (with) housing-first, you basically flip that model upside down.”

Project H3 VETS is a community collaboration coordinated by the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.

Mr. Shore also serves as the operation’s director for the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a grassroots effort to provide 100,000 homeless Americans with permanent housing over a three-year period.

The initiative is aligned nationally with the 100,000 Homes Campaign and the VA National Homeless Veterans Outreach Campaign and on target to end chronic homelessness among veterans by February 2014, the project’s website states.

The effort began in July 2010 by Common Ground and is now run by an organization called Community Solutions, which aims to elevate the housing-first approach to a national level.

Through the 2010 registry effort, Phoenix homeless advocates were able to identity a strong veteran population experiencing chronic homelessness.

“We were really able to help the VA system,” Mr. Shore said of what has now evolved into Project H3 VETS. “It is the same concept and model that we’re using in the private sector.”

Mr. Shore says the housing-first model is changing how outreach efforts focus resources and services.

“There has been an alignment and focus of using the same information and the use of our practices to impact homelessness,” he said of a unified approach behind permanent housing. “The change is tremendous -- we are now able to use evidence-based practices.”

A renaissance of thought is beginning to emerge in the outreach sector, Mr. Shore says.

“We are really starting to assess homeless people,” he said of having a set code of evaluation for the homeless population during registry events. “Nobody was getting down to the people who needed the help most. I am incredibly hopeful.”

Making an impact

For those who fought America’s battles, reintroduction to civilian society is not typically an easy transition. Mental issues, health problems and substance-abuse addictions all contribute to chronic homelessness.

“First of all, our goal is to have housing for all veterans,” said Terry Araman, Madison Street Veterans Association director.

Madison Street Veterans, a Phoenix-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is a peer-run group of homeless and formerly homeless veterans offering personal, individualized service, basic resources, community and advocacy for all veterans.

Chronic homelessness is prevalent within certain veteran populations, Mr. Araman points out.

“Typically, there are health problems -- not always is there a history of substance issue, but that exists,” he said. “All of this compounds to the vulnerability of our veterans.”

But with a housing-first approach, Mr. Araman says he is beginning to see a real impact among those who need rehabilitation the most.

“The thinking now is that they need to get into a safe place to live and live out their lives with dignity,” he said of what previous outreach efforts lacked. “If we can get them to know they will not be homeless, that is the way we want to tackle this problem.”

Sean Price, Arizona Department of Veteran Services homeless veterans services coordinator, agrees: Housing first is the right approach to reducing the amount of homeless veterans.

“We want to make an impact across the country,” he said in a Dec. 3 phone interview. “The majority of who we are housing right now are the men and women who came back in the 1960s and 1970s to a country that didn’t’ accept the (Vietnam) war.”

Mr. Price says the cycle of homelessness for these vets, in some cases, spans decades.

“I just spoke with a guy who was homeless for more than 30 years,” he said. “There was no homeless program back in that time period. These people have cycled in and out of homelessness for about 40 to 50 years.”

While Mr. Araman agrees a major milestone will be made this Christmas, more work is yet to be done.

“We are focusing on ending veteran homesslness, but we want to end homelessness for every man, woman and child,” he explained. “We shouldn’t have any homeless; that is not acceptable for anyone.”

News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 via e-mail at tthornton@newszap.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/nvnewsman

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