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Multnomah County and City Leaders Move Forward on Goals to End Veterans Homelessness in Portland

On April 1, a few dozen community leaders will meet to move forward with an audacious goal: to find A Home for Everyone, as their initiative is called.

Upon taking office last summer, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury worked with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales to appoint a coordinating board and ask them a question: What would it take to reduce the unmet need for housing for all homeless populations by half?

The nature of this charge was so specific, it really focused the (county) board, the staff, says Marc Jolin, the former JOIN executive director who was hired to lead the Home for Everyone initiative.

I think weve talked about (the problem) in these terms before, but its the first time weve looked systemwide to assess the population, attach a number to the people and the dollars it would take to tackle it.

Before his 15 years with the nonprofit JOIN working on the citys 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, Jolin worked on housing issues in Chicago.

He says hes never seen a housing plan that is quite as targeted, collaborative and grounded in data as the one underway.

According to the latest data, 1,700 people sleep on the sidewalks each night.

In January, Kafoury underscored the urgency of the issue.

This past month, we committed to end all veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 and we were awarded a $2 million federal grant to house 130 chronically homeless households, she said.

However, no matter how efficient or well-coordinated our system becomes, unless we have new tools such as inclusionary zoning and more dollars to develop affordable housing units, we wont make a significant impact on the housing gap, especially for our extremely low-income neighbors.

The April 1 coordinating board meeting will include leaders from the city, the county, the city of Gresham, Home Forward, Meyer Memorial Trust, and various local service providers and other housing advocates. Theyve been meeting since fall to prioritize and implement recommendations they made in their smaller work groups in past months.

Theyll talk about proposed changes to the way providers share data in their Homeless Management Information System.

And theyll appoint two new co-chairs to lead them through the process, since Jolin and the other co-chair stepped down to tend to their other duties.

Needs of Veterans

Veterans are the first of four areas the group is addressing, each with its own action plan. The others are: safety off the streets, housing, and health.

Two dozen people sit on the committee to address veteran housing. In their January action plan, called Operation 424, they outline the strategies and challenges for meeting their goal to house all chronically homeless vets by the end of this year.

According to the latest data:

413 veterans sleep on the street, in shelters or transitional housing each night.

In one year, about 785 veterans experienced homelessness in the county, comprising 11 percent of the countys homeless population and 8 percent of the overall county population.

Nearly 40 percent (314 veterans annually) are chronically homeless

About 15 percent of homeless vets arent eligible for federal benefits and cant access those resources. Most of those are not chronically homeless.

About 14 percent of veterans are people of color, and many experience unmet health care, mental health or substance abuse needs, as well as unemployment or criminal backgrounds.

Yet, Jolin says the plan feels like its within reach because both the federal and local governments have made it one of their most urgent priorities.

The action plan asks for $350,000 from the county budget to leverage Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provide housing and services for homeless, disabled veterans.

Some of the $350,000 will go toward rent assistance for those not eligible for the vouchers.

Portland also is using $6 million in federal Supportive Services for Veterans Families grants during the next three years, to assist about 750 veteran households.

This work is a priority, Jolin says. The desire of the executive committee to make something of this opportunity, to make progress now.




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