In yesterday’s Boston Globe, Kevin Cullen ended his Veterans Day column with this simple but profound line that encapsulates my feelings about this holiday:
Instead of thanking them [veterans] for their service, give them the services they need.
I want to celebrate Veterans Day this year by calling attention to my home state of Connecticut which has done just that. In September, Governor Malloy announced that Connecticut had become the first state in the nation to eliminate chronic homelessness among veterans. (Cities like New Orleans and Salt Lake City have also achieved this landmark, but Connecticut remains the first state to do so.)
Does this mean that every veteran from New Haven to Norwalk has a place to call home?
Sadly no. But it does mean we’re getting closer to that goal and we’ve reached a really important milestone.
There has been a lot of excitement about this announcement (The king of feel good viral news, Upworthy, even picked up this story. And their analysis is spot on, “The milestone isn’t celebrating an end to homelessness as much as it’s highlighting a system that’s working.”)
Before we get caught up with the high fives and hang a mission accomplished banner, it’s important to understand what it means to “end chronic homelessness among veterans.”
If I’m “chronically homeless” it means that I’ve either been homeless for a long time—a year or more—or several times over the past few years. The marker is at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years. It means that I also have a serious disability and chances are high that my disability is a mental illness or a substance addiction made worse by physical illness, injury, or trauma. As a result, I am especially vulnerable to declining health and likely to be a familiar face at the local hospital ER and at local crisis services. All at a substantial financial cost to the community and a significant emotional cost to me and my loved ones.
From 2010-2015, the number of veterans who experienced homelessness dropped by a third. This is an incredible decline, made possible by a focused, deliberate effort to end homelessness among veterans by 2016. It is also the result of a large infusion of federal dollars into rental assistance and support services targeted to veterans and the widespread adoption by providers and the VA of supportive housing, an evidence-based practice which matches the security of a home with individualized supports focused on recovery and health.
Supportive housing really does work to end chronic homelessness among the very people who many assume cannot be helped. We know this from considerable research, by widespread practice, and by the sheer fact that Connecticut has reached this milestone among veterans.
At the press conference announcing this achievement, Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, stood at the podium and said with the confidence befitting of a former Army captain and West Point grad, “The beginning is housing every veteran. The goal is housing every American.”
Or as Michelle Obama said at last year’s National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference:
“Ending homelessness for our veterans can be a crucial first step—a proof point—to show that we can end homelessness for everyone in this country, too… If we achieve our goal, if we end homelessness for our veterans, then we’ll show everyone in this country that we can also do it for all those families shuttling from motel to motel, for all those LGBT teens, and for every single person experiencing homelessness throughout our country.”
Connecticut has proved to the world that ending homelessness is possible.
Happy Veterans Day.
TAKE ACTION TODAY:
Today’s blog post celebrates the incredible accomplishment we’ve achieved of ending chronic homelessness for veterans in Connecticut.
But we’re living in a country where 45,000 vets are experiencing homelessness. Today we ask that you join us in donating to the Welcome Home Kit Initiative, part of the #DayForTheBrave online crowdfunding campaign. These kits consist of key items to successfully house veterans, such as landlord engagement assistance, housing navigation, and security and utility deposits, as well as furnishings to transform an empty apartment into a home. Learn more here.