Fact or Fiction: Is veteran homelessness ending in Miami?

Phil Briggs
August 07, 2018 - 2:13 pm

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“Veteran homelessness is on the decline in this country,” according to Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing & Urban Development.

But is it?

In a recent Miami Herald Op-Ed, Carson declared that, “The latest national estimate finds that the number of veterans experiencing homelessness is on the decline in most parts of the country.”

However, according to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) “Between 2016 and 2017, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness increased for the first time since 2010.” 

HUD

Though some data contradicts Carson’s words, if you look deep into the sea of AHAR’s statistics, you’ll find the tide of homeless veterans may indeed be going down.

According to the key findings in the 2017 report, “homelessness among veterans has dropped 45 percent since 2009”.

"We use 2 yardsticks we use to measure homelessness,” explained Brian Sullivan, HUD spokesperson. “The data comes from Point-In-Time (PIT) surveys, which are really just snapshots.  An army of volunteers literally go out and get the numbers by finding the homeless in the places they exist.  Like under bridges and in their camps, which most people never see.  These are usually done in late January ... but the problem is you’re only in the picture if you were in the picture.  Those that become homeless in May, do not show up in a survey taken in January.”

Sullivan explained that the other measurement they use is when they, “touch the system" either through Emergency Shelters or when they apply for Transitional Housing Programs.

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“It’s not like people will never fall into homelessness", Sullivan said.  "But going back as far as 2007, there was a goal set to focus on chronic homelessness, like those rooted in long-term disabilities.  It was then, HUD and the VA began focusing on ‘Permanent Supportive Housing’ units, similar to the way HUD had worked with vouchers for Section 8 housing.”

Sullivan explained how they created the “HUD-VASH” voucher program. (Housing Urban Development, Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing).  “The VA was uniquely positioned to find veterans in facilities all over the country, and HUD was able to locate housing ... through this partnership, thousands of veterans found homes.”

And in Miami / Dade County, the numbers certainly prove that. Today, unsheltered veterans represent less than 1% of the total homeless population.

According to the recent AHAR, in 2011, there were over 300 homeless vets, but only 167 by 2017, and the number of vets living outside of shelters went from 90 to only 9. 

“The urgent focus on building and deepening collaboration was the key to success,” said Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “The County’s achievement is a powerful example to other communities that ending homelessness is possible—with creativity, grit, and a lot of perseverance.”

So, will there be a day when there are no homeless veterans?

“It’s not easy to get there,” Sullivan said. “But we can certainly create a framework, where when homelessness happens, it’s rare, brief and non-recurring.”

And while Miami may be best known for glitz and glam, caring for homeless vets is something Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez is equally proud of, “Today, we say with certainty that Miami-Dade is treating its veterans with the respect they deserve.”

 

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