Homelessness among veterans has “effectively” ended in the Dayton region, the result of more than a decade of work focused on reducing and eliminating the problem, federal and local authorities declared Monday.
The city of Dayton is the first community in Ohio to reach the milestone, based on federal criteria, and one of nearly 30 in the nation, authorities said.
“We’re embracing compelling evidence showing that the most effective way to combat homelessness is to offer a housing model first,” said Antonio R. Riley, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regional administrator in Chicago. “We are finding here today that … veteran homelessness is not some intractable problem that we simply cannot address over time.”
The declaration does not mean homelessness is non-existent among veterans in Montgomery County, but that the community has an effective way to identify and house homeless veterans rapidly, said Charles Meadows, co-chairman of the Homeless Solutions Policy Board.
“You have to be prepared to continue to serve to meet the needs not only of the veterans but other people who become homeless,” he said.
In 2014, the Dayton VA joined with the Dayton-Kettering-Montgomery County Continuum of Care to push to eliminate veteran homelessness. Last year, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley joined a nationwide “mayors challenge” to tackle the issue.
“Really, it’s an idea and a belief in our community that no one in our community should go homeless,” Whaley said at a press conference Monday at the Dayton VA Medical Center. She was joined by VA, Montgomery County and HUD leaders.
“If we don’t each make this a priority for our organization, it doesn’t happen,” she said.
Finding the homeless
In January, a U.S. HUD “point-in-time” survey on one night found one homeless veteran living on the streets of Dayton. Among the 761 people in Montgomery County counted as homeless in the survey, 60 were veterans, 98 percent of whom were living in shelters or had found housing.
In Montgomery County, 54 homeless veterans were permanently housed within the past 90 days, authorities reported Monday. Ohio had 930 homeless veterans identified in the survey.
Veteran unemployment rates overall track below the national and Ohio average of 4.9 percent in October 2016. For all veterans, the national unemployment rate was 4.3 percent last month.
In Ohio, the most recent statistics for 2015 show a 3.3 percent unemployment rate for veterans. However, post-9/11 veterans recorded a higher rate their their civilian counterparts at 5.3 percent last year in Ohio and 5.8 percent nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many veterans have used HUD vouchers to find a place to live. The vouchers have paid housing costs for about 350 veterans in the Dayton area since 2008, authorities said.
“We hope (communities) will continue this because it will be something that will continue to be an urgent need,” Randy Brown, a spokesman at the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “It’s not a stopping point.”
The VA had set a goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. The goal was not met, although federal agencies reported homelessness among veterans has declined 47 percent since 2010, and 17 percent between last year and this year.
Homelessness in Ohio overall has fallen 17 percent since 2010.
The “point-in-time” survey in January 2016 showed nearly 40,000 veterans — or 9 percent of the homeless in the United States — did not have a place to stay.
Place to call home
A bout with drinking left Clarence T. Jennings without a job and homeless for several years, the Army veteran said.
Jennings, 60, of Harrison Twp., entered a substance abuse treatment program at the Dayton VA and found a place to live. He now works at the Dayton VA, helping homeless veterans get their lives back on the right path.
“Once I got a grip on that and realized if I wanted my life to change, I had to change,” he said.
Army veteran J. Rothweiler, 39, of Dayton, said he faced homelessness and time in jail because of an assault case before he called a VA help line.
“My life was pretty chaotic with stuff,” he said. “I didn’t have anywhere to go. I didn’t have any kind of hope. I didn’t even know this place was here 16 months ago.”
After substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling and finding a place to call home, he said he has made “a 180 degree turn” in his life. Today, he’s a caretaker at the Dayton National Cemetery.
In 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama urged communities to act on ending homelessness among veterans, and 860 communities have taken up the challenge.