Official: ‘Functional zero’ homeless-vets goal still possible for area around Florida city
By BETH REESE CRAVEY | The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union | Published: August 4, 2019
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — As more social service agencies joined a collaborative effort to end veteran homelessness in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties in 2019, they added more names to the list of known veterans in need of housing.
So the homeless-veterans estimate that was 118 in May has risen since to about 158, said Dawn Gilman, executive director of Changing Homelessness, the lead homelessness prevention agency for the three counties.
But the area’s number of homeless veterans has dropped by 82% in the past decade, with the next on-the-ground count of Jacksonville veterans set for Aug. 23. The goal of reaching “functional zero” — meaning capacity is available within 30 days to house every homeless veteran who seeks help — by year’s end is still within reach, despite the higher estimate, Gilman said.
“We’ve gotten a lot more participation, so the number of known veterans went up. But it’s started to wind its way back down,” she said. The goal of functional zero by year’s end, she said, now would “be a stretch, but is attainable.”
Cindy Funkhauser, president and CEO of the Sulzbacher homeless center in downtown Jacksonville, agreed.
A local contingent who attended a recent national homelessness conference in Washington stayed two extra days to meet with representatives of other large cities “to strategize how each of our cities was going to reach functional zero,” she said. They also met with representatives of the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs.
“Jacksonville came up with a very aggressive plan that does require several dominoes to fall in the right order to reach zero by the end of the year,” Funkhauser said.
The dominoes include “process tweaks in our system and finding enough housing units,” she said. “But with all of us working together … we set goals and strategies to get there and with the right focus I do believe we can.”
Changing Homelessness will lead the Aug. 23 veterans count, called “August Surge.” Teams will visit targeted areas at the beaches and in downtown Jacksonville that have the area’s “high concentrations of unsheltered people,” Gilman said. Volunteers are needed but advance training is required. Online training is available and the agency will hold in-person sessions Thursday and Aug. 20.
Part of the training is how to find out if a homeless person is a veteran, which is not as easy as simply asking who’s a veteran. Not all veterans see themselves as veterans, particularly those who did not serve in the military overseas or during a time of war or conflict, Gilman said.
“We have found … that it depends on how you ask the question,” she said.
The appropriate question, she said, is, “Have you served at least one day on active duty?” Information gleaned subsequently determines the specific programs available to give that veteran housing and other services, she said.
About 24% of the Northeast Florida population is active or veteran military and the region ranked 39th for the number of homeless veterans in 2017, according to a Changing Homelessness report released earlier this year.
The overall number of homeless people in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties, which has dropped 32% during the past 10 years, is still on the decline, according to the report.
Every January, Changing Homelessness stages the one-day Point-in-Time Count, during which nonprofit staff and volunteers visit areas in Clay, Duval and Nassau where homeless people congregate. This year, a total of 1,654 people were counted — 74 in Clay, 1,494 in Duval and 86 in Nassau. The latest numbers were combined with 10-year trends and information from about 40 regional social service agencies that offer overnight emergency beds, transitional housing and supportive services.
The pocket park on Main Street across from the Main Library in downtown Jacksonville has become a gathering place for the homeless after efforts to get them to leave Hemming Park two blocks away. A small-scale count of homeless veterans will be done Aug. 23 in the downtown and beaches areas.
BOB SELF, (JACKSONVILLE) FLORIDA TIMES-UNION/TNS