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Veterans homelessness was effectively ended in Tennessee’s fourth most-populous city. But some vets are now back out on the streets.
Leaders in Chattanooga, Tennessee joined the national movement to end veterans homelessness in 2015, creating several systems to remove housing barriers during Mayor Andy Berke’s first term.
A list of veterans was developed beginning with the most vulnerable among them, and by grinding away at it the city was able to get to functional zero—about 15 vets who could be housed at any time—in January 2017.
Veterans homelessness was effectively ended because the city had the capacity for any newly homeless vets, but in June the Chattanooga Housing Authority announced a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding shortfall would halt the issuance of new housing vouchers.
“That dried up a lot of resources we had been using,” Tyler Yount, the mayor’s special projects director, told Route Fifty in an interview. “We had to get creative, and in some cases we aren’t able to meet the need.”
A combination of housing authority vouchers and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs vouchers and 90-day rapid rehousing funds was getting the job done. Stakeholders would attend weekly case conferencing meetings to apply for the appropriate vouchers on behalf of the homeless veteran at the top of their list, and now new applications weren’t being accepted.
Berke wrote in a Jan. 3 Chattanooga Times Free Press op-ed:
”We again have homeless veterans in our community. Less than a year ago, we effectively had none. This is appalling. Our partners at homeless agencies are among the most dedicated and creative servants in our community, wholly focused on helping us eliminate homelessness among veterans. We've done it before, and we can do it again, but not without the participation of HUD and the VA.”
A veteran moving out of assistance may free up space, but homeless vets aren’t being assisted as quickly as before—which can become deadly in cold temperatures like the kind Tennessee experienced during the recent deep freeze earlier in January. More people require emergency shelter, which amounts to a mat on the floor for the night during cold months and mornings spent outdoors to afford the uptick in clients.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson is slated to announce $2 billion in “continuum of care” homeless grants on Thursday, supporting more than 7,300 local projects, after the department postponed the original announcement earlier this month. Chattanooga’s city government doesn’t operate its continuum of care but instead partners with it.
“I think there’s a pretty clear need for more funding for housing choice vouchers for local communities, and cuts were a step backward,” Yount said. “We can’t be housing first unless we have the housing-first resources to do that.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.