Dover making big strides in housing homeless veterans

 

DOVER — It’s not just one thing in particular that has led to the decreasing numbers of homeless veterans in Dover over the past year-and-a-half.

Rather, it’s a combination of several different factors that have helped 75 previously homeless veterans find permanent homes in the city over the past 18 months.

According to Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen, finding homes for unsheltered veterans should not only be a top priority for his city, but for communities throughout the United States.

“Just knowing that there were veterans and their families that were homeless is something that really fired me up,” he said. “So we made a pledge to work together to put our best effort together to end homelessness among veterans.”

Dover, under Mayor Christiansen’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness program that began 18 months ago, found permanent housing for 56 homeless veterans in 2015, six more than its original goal.

The city has already located 19 permanent homes for previously unsheltered veterans so far this year, just 21 short of its year-long goal.

The positive numbers for Dover reflect a trend from across the nation. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual Point-In-Time estimate of the United States homeless population found just over 13,000 unsheltered homeless veterans living on the streets in January 2016, which marked a 56 percent decrease since 2010.

More than 300 previously homeless veterans found permanent homes in Delaware last year.

“We have an absolute duty to ensure those who’ve worn our nation’s uniform have a place to call home,” said HUD Secretary Julian Castro. “While we’ve made remarkable progress toward ending veteran homelessness, we still have work to do to make certain we answer the call of our veterans just as they answered the call of our nation.”

Bill Farley, vice chairman for the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs, said the decreased numbers of homeless veterans in Dover are due to teamwork among several different organizations and getting all of the representatives inside the same room, on the same page and working more efficiently together.

Bill Farley, vice chairman of the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs, is chairman of Dover Mayor Christiansen’s Homeless Veteran Initiative. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Bill Farley, vice chairman of the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs, is chairman of Dover Mayor Christiansen’s Homeless Veteran Initiative. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We held a summit and from that we got volunteers from all walks of life,” said Mr. Farley, who is also chairman of Mayor Christiansen’s Homeless Veteran Initiative. “We took some of these organizations already involved in [veterans] homelessness and tried to make them more efficient.

“We also strive to make the veteran become a member of the team and not just a number or statistic.”

Mayor Christiansen was seeking a workable plan when he signed the city up to participate in First Lady Michelle Obama’s challenge to mayors to end homelessness among veterans.

It appears as if he and the city have found it.

Dover created a working group made up of members from organizations such as HUD, the Homeless Planning Council of Delaware, Dover Housing Authority, the Delaware Veterans Coalition, Interfaith Mission for Housing, and others; all of which share the common goal of ending homelessness.

They all get together in the same room every other week at the Delaware Commission of Veterans Affairs at 802 Silver Lake Boulevard, along with the homeless veterans, and try to come to a solution.

“By bringing all of these people together with their programs and volunteers and putting them in same room we are able to break down the red tape that might have taken days, weeks and months to overcome,” Mr. Farley said.

“Part of the problem is privacy. Often times the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] couldn’t share information they had with a veteran, with a shelter or HUD or so on. We have found that when you get all of the people in the room together then they can talk and get the thing solved.”

Mr. Farley added that Dover’s blueprint to tackling the homeless issue is now operated the same way by New Castle and Sussex counties.

He said that Dover’s approach to fighting homelessness among veterans is three-pronged, including outreach, diversion and prevention. Not only do they try to find homes for the veterans, they also try to help them receive healthcare, job training and education.

Mr. Farley also said the issue is a moving target because nobody knows exactly how many veterans become homeless on any given day.

“In our economy people lose their jobs, people get divorced, get released from being incarcerated, and so on,” he said. “One thing that keeps increasing is the problem of female veterans who are homeless and more often than not they come with children. That presents a larger issue with finding a place for them to live and getting their kids in school.”

Mayor Christiansen’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness program sets goals every 100 days — but makes sure they are attainable ones.

The homeless veteran population still exists, but Dover is making strides.

“The problem isn’t done, but the system now is there,” Mr. Farley said. “If I get a call right now about a veteran who is about to be homeless I know who to call and who to put him [or her] in touch with.”

Mr. Farley added that the Delaware Veterans Trust Fund can help veterans who might be on the verge of becoming homeless. He said that 100 percent of donations to the fund go directly to the veterans in need.

VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said he can see the progress that it made toward ending homelessness among veterans throughout the country.

“The men and women who have fought for this nation should not have to fight to keep a roof over their head and I’m pleased the VA is serving more veterans than ever before with health care, education, job training and wraparound supportive services,” Secretary McDonald said.

“While this is very real progress that means tens of thousands more veterans have a place to call home, we will not rest until every veteran in need is permanently housed.”

Mayor Christiansen said he has no timeline to end the homeless veterans program in Dover.

“In my opinion, we will continue this project until every veteran has a home and the opportunity to receive the services they need,” he said.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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