Virginia has lowest rate of veteran homelessness in US
By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 13, 2016
On Veterans Day 2015, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a functional end to veteran homelessness in Virginia.
From that day forward, veteran homelessness would be rare, brief and nonrecurring, he said. He didn't say "mission accomplished," and he didn't say the number would end up being zero.
"I would like to get closer and closer to zero," said Matt Leslie, who has coordinated the effort for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. "The reality is, we'll probably never get to zero because people's situations change dramatically. We're also a state that is growing in veterans."
Today, one year after this qualified declaration of victory, Virginia still has reason to celebrate. It has the lowest rate of veteran homelessness in the country -- about 7 per 1,000, according to Leslie.
That didn't happen overnight.
Veteran homelessness has been plummeting in Virginia for several years, statistics show. Overall, Virginia recorded a 45 percent drop in veteran homelessness between 2011 and 2016.
Edna Moore was homeless for 18 months until after she moved out of her nephew's home. Edna was living in her car after she ran out of money. She found help through Veteran X.
Hampton Roads saw a 53 percent drop over the same period, from 407 veterans to 193.
"That's really significant considering Hampton Roads has such a dense veteran population," Leslie said.
In fact, veterans make up about 17.4 percent of the total population in greater Hampton Roads. Statewide, veterans are more than 9 percent of the total.
Officials credit better coordination between government agencies and private providers for driving down the numbers. They also cited a new assessment tool that scores veterans on their vulnerability, which drives critical cases to the front of the line. Agencies from the federal to local level are meeting more often and sharing resources.
Still, measuring the homeless population is not an exact science.
The figures used in this story come from an annual point-in-time count that takes place in late January. It provides a snapshot of the group's size.
Could something happen to disrupt the progress Virginia has made?
"The economy definitely," Leslie replied. "Particularly in Virginia with (defense cuts). We can get hit pretty hard. And sometimes veterans can get hit pretty hard."
His other concern focuses on the broader issue of housing affordability.
"We see it in an anecdotal way," he said. "We have individuals who are aging and getting into situations where they can't afford their housing. And that's a concern. We can house every chronically homeless individual, but we're still getting people coming in who lose their job and don't have enough money for housing."
Politics is not considered a concern, even though Virginia governors change every four years and a new administration brings new priorities. John Newby, commissioner of the state Department of Veterans Services, says the system put in place is self-sustaining.
"I'm not very worried at all that a change in administration will change the dynamic we've seen in Virginia," he said. "It's basically self-executing now, the way we have it set up."
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