Reflections on Veterans' Homelessness in the Pikes Peak Region
By Janni Conrad
El Pomar Fellows support the work of regional councils. One aspect of this role necessitates being informed on local issues and news in the region. As Janni Conrad concludes her work with the Pikes Peak Regional Council, she reflects on several news stories that have influenced the way she thinks about the Council’s focus area of veterans’ homelessness and veterans’ homelessness prevention.
Surprisingly, 11,000 housing vouchers for veterans remained unused on a national level in 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal. Frequently, when I think about homelessness, food insecurity or other social problems, I consider the fact that these issues frequently do not result from a lack of resources, but rather the uneven or inefficient distribution therein. The allocation of housing vouchers is one such example. How can we have unused housing vouchers, while an estimated 30,000 veterans remain homeless nationwide?
From the article:
“Congress, too, is addressing the issue. Legislation that passed the House, but still awaits action in the Senate, would allow homeless veterans who were given an Other Than Honorable discharge to use the vouchers. Lawmakers like Rep. Mike Levin (D., Calif.) have also proposed legislation to boost the purchasing power of vouchers in high-rent areas of the country.
VA officials say two of the major hurdles to issuing vouchers are rising rents and low vacancy rates across the U.S. In addition, the department has had difficulty hiring the necessary case workers to work with voucher recipients, officials say.”
Organizations working to address veterans’ homelessness are becoming increasingly reliant on big data to move the needle on this issue. Denver nonprofits are using data to identify where and how to catch people early in experiencing homelessness, and one of those sources is the Point in Time count. Communities across the country hold Point in Time counts of people experiencing homelessness in one 24-hour period in late January. Additionally, they are trying to better utilize the Point in Time count by adding supplementary questions, such as those specific to veterans.
From the article:
“Community Solutions launched an initiative called Built for Zero in 2015 to help communities coordinate and use data to address homelessness. Built for Zero includes more than 70 communities across the country. A dozen of those are said to have ended homelessness for veterans or the chronically homeless. Among them is Lake County, Illinois, which joined Built for Zero in 2015 and declared victory over homelessness among veterans last year.
That doesn’t mean no veterans will ever again experience homelessness in those places, but that the communities have the resources and procedures to ensure that it happens rarely and is quickly resolved. Metro Denver, which has been involved in Built for Zero since 2016, has yet to reach that status.”
Minnesota is steadily working to end veteran homelessness on a county-by-county and region-by-region basis. As the state nears its goal to end veterans’ homelessness, it is exciting to learn from their success and consider how some of their approaches could be replicated in the Pikes Peak region. In our first meeting of 2020, the Pikes Peak Council learned how the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care is implementing similar programs and may be able to emulate Minnesota’s success.
From the Article:
“State and local agencies have reached this point by adopting the sort of coordinated urgency normally reserved for disease outbreaks or other public health emergencies. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs created the nation’s first statewide registry of homeless veterans. The list is updated in real time and shared with every county and tribal agency in the state, as well as more than two dozen nonprofits. All veterans on the registry are appointed a case manager, who helps them enroll in benefits and even drives them to meetings with landlords.”
Janni Conrad joined El Pomar Foundation as a member of the 2018 Fellowship class. As a Fellow, Janni works with the American Council of Young Political Leaders, alumni relations, communications, Southeast Colorado Springs Project, and the Sally Beck Fund. Additionally, Janni supports the Pikes Peak region. Read more about Janni here.