33% Drop in Veteran Homelessness Since 2010

From the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ August 2014 newsletter: 

HUD, VA, and USICH Announce 33% Drop in Veteran Homelessness Since 2010

January 2014 PIT Count results show 49,933 homeless veterans

WASHINGTON – The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) today released a new national estimate of veteran homelessness in the United States. Data collected during the annual Point-in-Time Count conducted in January 2014 shows there were 49,933 homeless veterans in America, a decline of 33 percent (or 24,837 people) since 2010. This includes a nearly 40 percent drop in the number of veterans sleeping on the street.

HUD, VA, USICH, and local partners have used evidenced-based practices like Housing First and federal resources like HUD-VASH (the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program) to get veterans off the street and into stable housing as quickly as possible. Since 2008, the HUD-VASH program has served a total of 74,019 veterans.

“We have an obligation to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home,” said Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. “In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans, but we have more work to do. HUD will continue collaborating with our federal and local partners to ensure that all of the men and women who have served our country have a stable home and an opportunity to succeed.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs and our federal and local partners should be proud of the gains made reducing veterans’ homelessness,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, “but so long as there remains a veteran living on our streets, we have more work to do.”

“As a nation, we have proven that homelessness is a problem we can solve,” said U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Laura Green Zeilinger. “Communities all across the country are meeting this costly tragedy with urgency and a focus on helping all veterans and their families achieve safe and stable housing.”

To accelerate progress on meeting the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Administration’s “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness” in spring 2014. So far, more than 210 mayors, county, and state officials have committed to ending homelessness among veterans in their communities.

The federal government has provided significant new resources to help communities pursue the goal of ending homelessness among veterans. Communities that target these resources strategically are making significant progress and can end veteran homelessness in their communities in 2015. These strategies include:

  • Using a Housing First approach, which removes barriers to help veterans obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible, without unnecessary prerequisites;
  • Prioritizing the most vulnerable veterans—especially those experiencing chronic homelessness—for permanent supportive housing opportunities, including those created through the HUD-VASH program;
  • Coordinating outreach efforts to identify and engage every veteran experiencing homelessness and focus outreach efforts on achieving housing outcomes;
  • Targeting rapid rehousing interventions, including those made possible through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, toward veterans who need shorter-term rental subsidies and services in order to be reintegrated back into our communities;
  • Leveraging other housing and services resources that can help veterans who are ineligible for some of the VA’s programs get into stable housing;
  • Increasing early detection and access to preventive services so at‐risk veterans remain stably housed;
  • Closely monitoring progress toward the goal, including the success of programs achieving permanent housing outcomes; and
  • Aligning local goals and strategies with Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

To help your community accelerate progress in ending veteran homelessness, apply for Community Solutions’ Zero: 2016 campaign and get involved with the 25 Cities Initiative.

Domestic Violence and Homelessness in Birmingham

Domestic Violence Services

Warning: The following post summarizes instances of domestic violence and includes links to graphic descriptions of violence. Domestic violence is a reality that affects many in our community.

Recently several women in our community have been murdered by their current or former partners. In March, Angelica Jones was shot to death by her estranged boyfriend. In June, Rashon Deidrenette Bester Epps was fatally shot by her husband. In July, Deborah Diane Prater died two days after her ex-boyfriend doused her in gasoline and set her on fire. These horrific and heartbreaking instances of domestic violence are not uncommon in Alabama. According to the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there were 24 reported domestic violence homicides in Alabama in 2012. That same year, there were 2,722 reported domestic violence aggravated assaults and 32,995 reported domestic violence simple assaults. For these statistics and more, click here. For national statistics, click here.

A person who is experiencing domestic violence is often unable to leave because their abuser is not just physically abusive, but also emotionally manipulative and in control of many/all aspects of their life, including their finances. On average, it takes a domestic violence survivor seven times to successfully leave their abuser. When a domestic violence survivor is able to leave their abuser, they often lack the financial and emotional support to make it on their own. Unfortunately, this means that many people who leave a domestic violence situation then experience homelessness. According to this year’s Point-in-Time count, out of the 1,329 people experiencing homelessness in the Birmingham area on any given night, 209 are survivors of domestic violence. That means over 15% of people experiencing homelessness in our community are survivors of domestic violence. These community members and all who experience domestic violence deserve to feel safe and be in an environment where they can gain stability.

In central Alabama, we have shelters and transitional housing programs for women who’ve experienced / are experiencing domestic violence. In these programs, survivors of domestic violence can feel safe and gain stability. In our area, women who’ve experienced domestic violence can receive services at SafeHouse of Shelby County and the YWCA of Central Alabama. Please follow the links to learn more about these amazing agencies and the work they’re doing to keep survivors of domestic violence safe and end domestic violence in our community. People experiencing domestic violence can also contact the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s 24-hour crisis hotline for assistance: 1-800-650-6522. People experiencing domestic violence can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY for those who are hearing impaired: 1-800-787-3224.

At One Roof we believe that preventing and ending homelessness is a community effort. We also believe that ending domestic violence is a community effort. It is our responsibility as a community to educate ourselves about the services available to people experiencing domestic violence and to make those services known to anyone who might need them.

We will not forget the 209 survivors of domestic violence who experience homelessness on any given night in central Alabama. We will not forget Angelica, Rashon, and Deborah, and the other members of our community whose lives were taken by their abusers. No person deserves to be abused. No person deserves to die at the hands of their abuser. And no person should have to make the decision between staying with an abuser or becoming homeless.  There is help available if you are experiencing domestic violence and/or if you know someone who might be experiencing domestic violence. Please contact SafeHouse, the YWCA, and the ACADV if you or anyone you know is in need of help.

Josh Helms is an AmeriCorps alum who served at One Roof as the Capacity Building Assistant from 2013-2014. 

Mourning Robin Williams and the Impact of Mental Illness 

Robin Williams in the 1991 film, The Fisher King.

Robin Williams has died. He is presumed to have taken his own life.

The man who made us laugh until we hurt with his outrageous characters Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire in Mrs. Doubtfireand Armand Goldman in Birdcage, also made us cry with his portrayal of therapist Dr. Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, and with his depiction of an inspiring English professor with a student who commits suicide in Dead Poet’s Society.

What does the death of Robin Williams have to do with preventing and ending homelessness?  More than you might think.

I have been a huge Robin Williams fan since “meeting” him as the space alien Mork in the sitcom Happy Days. I never missed one of his movies and seldom missed an opportunity to see him being interviewed on talk shows, though the interviewer was usually in control of the segment for only a few seconds until the genius of Robin Williams took over. It seemed this brilliant man never had middle ground; he was either the funniest person on the planet or the most heart wrenching character in a movie, but he was never just average. Robin Williams was never normal – whatever that is. Robin Williams had a diagnosis of  Bipolar Disorder, a mental illness that people used to call Manic Depressive. He had periods of the highest highs (the mania) and then he had periods of the lowest lows (the depression). He struggled with substance abuse, and from this layman’s viewpoint, that substance use was probably an attempt to self-medicate, an attempt to quiet the demons that mercilessly drove him.

Many of our citizens experiencing homelessness have a mental illness, but few of them grew up in wealth as Robin Williams did. Not many of them have the opportunity to channel their illness into creative greatness honed by several years of study at Julliard like Robin Williams. Few of them have the mandatory medical and psychological care available that will identify the appropriate combination of medicine and therapy to control the extremes of their disorder. Many have alienated (because of their illness) the systems of friends and family vital to their support when they are cycling through the outer limits of emotion. Our citizens can become homeless when they can no longer maintain a home and lack an adequate support system, often because of the ravages of mental illness. Robin Williams simply acted the part of Parry, a mentally ill homeless man in The Fisher King. However, Williams’ portrayal of homelessness must have been spot-on since the 1991 role earned him a Best Actor nomination.

Robin Williams plays Parry, a man experiencing homelessness and living with a severe mental illness, in The Fisher King.  In this scene, Parry tells the mythology of the Fisher King — a relevant story that can be applied to acknowledging the suffering experienced with mental illness and the healing that can happen with adequate support and care from others.

Because of the death and apparent suicide of Robin Williams, the internet is full of “information” about Mr. Williams: his professed addiction, his acknowledged mental illness, and speculations about both his life and his death. For reliable information on mental illness, you can research The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and read their publications on Bipolar Disorder and on SuicideScholarly articles on the link between Mental Illness and Homelessness have been available for many years; we know that at least 30% of our people who live in bus stations, in sewer tunnels, in camps in the woods and in other places unfit for human habitation suffer from a severe mental illness.  If we know about this link, why aren’t we doing more about it?  The AL.com post from this morning is just one short thought on Mental Illness, Homelessness and State funding of Mental Health services.

Robin Williams is far from being the only celebrity with Bipolar Disorder; some of the more creative ones include Russell Brand, Kurt Cobain, Carrie Fisher, Larry Flynt, Jesse Jackson Jr., Jackson Pollock, Charley Pride, Robert Schumann, Frank Sinatra, Sidney Sheldon, Britnay Spears, Amy Winehouse and Virginia Woolf. I could also name many of the street homeless with Bipolar Disorder, and you would know their faces, but you would never know their names because, to most people, the street people don’t have names. Turns out that mental illness really doesn’t care if you have money and fame  and an Academy Award or if you have nothing, live under an overpass and your unkempt face is known only as “that lazy bum:”  suicide takes everyone.

For a person who struggles with mental illness, their condition deserves to be treated seriously and with respect and compassion — by their closest friends and family, their neighbors, their communities, and their health care professionals.  That support, from every side, is priceless and can mean the difference between a life of fulfilled potential and personal growth or a life of suffering, estrangement, fear, and, unfortunately, suicide.   Sometimes that support can mean the difference between a life in housing and a life in homelessness.  In our community, agencies like UAB REACT and JBS Mental Health, among many of our other agencies that provide emergency services to people in need, these service providers become the support system for seriously mentally ill individuals who have no one else.

I mourn the loss of Robin Williams and I mourn each of the 423 severely mentally ill people experiencing homelessness who also call our community home.

This blog post was written by Michelle Farley, Executive Director of One Roof. 

For support, please remember that anyone experiencing suicidal ideation or emotional distress can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or our local crisis line.

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