It’s been almost one year since Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that Virginia was the first state in the U.S. to functionally end homelessness among veterans—and while it may not seem that way when residents drive through Charlottesville and see people begging, evolving housing programs are having positive effects on the city and surrounding counties.
Partnerships between Veterans Affairs medical centers, programs that support veterans families and local homeless organizations such as The Haven continue to piece together a complex, and often sensitive, puzzle.
Functionally ending homelessness does not mean it is eradicated. It means programs are in place to ensure a veteran’s experience with homelessness now—or in the future—will be “rare, brief and non-recurring,” according to McAuliffe. Rapid Re-Housing and Homelessness Prevention are two examples of programs available.
The Haven is often considered the homeless point of entry in Charlottesville and its five surrounding counties: Greene, Nelson, Fluvanna, Louisa and Albemarle.
Situated in a former multi-story church donated by Evan Almighty director and UVA alum Tom Shadyac on the corner of East Market and First Street North, The Haven has been addressing the needs of the area’s homeless community since opening its doors in 2010.
Caleb Fox, veterans case manager for The Haven, says the change towards housing programs has been monumental.
“The Rapid Re-Housing program is based on this notion of housing first,” says Fox. “In the last three years the approach to homelessness has really shifted on its head. It used to be getting folks into a shelter, addressing their physical and mental health, substance abuse, income issues and then getting them into a house. Now it’s get them into housing and then working on the other things through individual case management.”
Former Charlottesville mayor Dave Norris is another influential figure in the fight against chronic homelessness. During his time in office from 2008 to 2011, he was instrumental in getting The Crossings—a permanent supportive housing community for formerly homeless people—funded, developed and officially launched. He’s witnessed firsthand the changes to the system.
“There’s been this real focus nationally of addressing homelessness,” Norris says. “The consensus was that we were doing a decent job of putting a Band-Aid on homelessness, but not doing a very good job of actually ending it.”
He attributes a lot of the progress in reducing veteran homelessness to the Rapid Re-Housing thrust. “We saw a considerable increase in both state and federal resources that funneled through organizations such as The Haven and others,” says Norris.
The increased funding for these programs is based on statistical data, says Fox. Evidence suggests that getting someone off the street and into a stable situation generates better outcomes—and there are only slight differences between the programs for vets and non-vets.
The VA-funded Rapid Re-Housing program is more time-limited, providing a maximum of nine months of rental assistance, compared with two years for non-veterans, says Fox.
Since 2015, Fox says 54 veterans from the Charlottesville area have been enrolled in vet programs. He estimates the local homeless population at 185 to 220 people, which means about a quarter of them are veterans. Of the 54 veterans, 13 were enrolled in the Supportive Service for Veterans Families Homeless Prevention Program, which is intended for people who are not homeless but are imminently at risk, and the remaining 41 vets were enrolled in the SSVF Rapid Re-Housing program.
Fox says the support service programs spent approximately $79,000 to assist 24 veterans in these two programs with security deposits, rental assistance, utilities and deposits, transportation costs and moving expenses.
For the 30 remaining veterans, some decided to leave the area. Others declined services. Fox says he continues to work with the veterans who have not yet been housed to address any barriers they might have, including criminal background or credit issues.
“The goal the VA has set is that it’s a handup, and not a handout,” Fox says. “We send veterans on their way once they are in a stabilized situation, and ready to pay their own housing costs.”
While the need and desire for more funding are ever-present worries, he credits the increased focus on veterans over the past several years for some of the positive changes across the nation.
“Officials have spent a lot of money since the start of the Obama administration to address veteran homelessness, and it’s working,” says Fox.
Norris concurs that the cooperation across party lines really propelled the fight into the national spotlight. Getting vets into homes was a rallying point in Washington, and beyond.
“The least we can do is make sure our men and women who served this country in uniform never find themselves out on the streets,” Norris says. “In a city like this, in a state like this… we are showing that we can honor that commitment.”