- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A summit at Alabama State University was designed for federal, state and local agencies, so they could discuss working to end veteran homelessness. But that didn’t stop Delano Caldwell from showing up for answers.

The 40-year-old U.S. Navy veteran came to the meeting on Wednesday looking for affordable housing.

“I came to get as much information as I could about trying to find somewhere decent and affordable to live,” he said outside the doors of the Veteran’s Homeless Summit. “I am staying in a regular rented house, but I am so far behind on my bills and probably am going to get evicted, so I’m just trying to jump ahead and find me somewhere to stay before I hit the streets.”

ASU and its radio station hosted the summit in an effort to help homeless in the River Region and throughout the state receive the help, assistance and attention they deserve. The summit was organized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Southeast Regional Administrator of HUD, Ed Jennings, Jr., along with representatives of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, public housing authorities and continuum of care providers, held a day-long discussion seeking strategies to end veteran homelessness in Alabama.

Representatives from throughout the state attended including the cities of Auburn, Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa.

Their goal included ensuring Alabama veterans participating in the HUD-VASH Program are counted in the State of Alabama’s Homeless Management Information System; expanding other options for families of veterans through programs such as Supportive Services for Veterans Families and Emergency Shelter Grants; and removing barriers that hinder veterans obtaining permanent benefits and help.

“We have a list of issues and challenges, and we want to put everyone together, and out of this forum, to come up with solutions to the challenges,” said Michael German, HUD Birmingham field office director. “You have people who come back from post-trauma, people dealing with issues with drugs and alcohol, and even chronic people who prefer to live on the streets. Housing them is the easiest part.

“Keeping them in housing is the challenge. People bring syndromes back with them, and it’s about adapting to a new culture, and they bring in habits that are not good for them. So people tend to stay in the lifestyles they are in.”

Point-in-Time Count reported in its annual survey that the number of homeless veterans fell to just under 50,000 in 2014 from nearly 75,000 in 2010, a drop of 33 percent, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.

The announcement from the federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs, attributed the drop to several strategies, including reducing prerequisite “barriers” to get veterans in permanent housing more quickly and focusing housing efforts on chronically homeless and “vulnerable” veterans, according to the article.

It was announced at the summit on Wednesday that on May 7, the city of Mobile ended veteran homelessness.

“It was a team effort,” said Eric Jefferson, CEO of Housing First, Inc., The Homeless Coalition, of Mobile and Baldwin counties. “We worked with the VA and other service providers such as mental health, substance abuse. We use a model in Mobile of getting folks housed first and working on whatever their issues are once we get them housed.”

Jefferson believes the aspect of the Mobile solution that could help most statewide is a coordinated assessment process that consolidates waiting lists and allows agencies to track the homeless.

“It helped us so much,” Jefferson said of the process, “that we also have ended chronic homelessness in our community - those individuals who have been on the streets for over a year. We were able to do that last June 2014. We made the commitment to do it, and we got the community to buy into it.”

Over a three-year period with the program, 654 veterans have been served, and about 400 chronic homeless have moved through the system. And with the coordinated assessment, the program can house the homeless within three days.

“It’s not just about getting them housed,” Jefferson said. “It’s about moving them to self-sufficiency so that they don’t need our services anymore. So with our chronic homeless over the past two years, we’ve moved 40 percent of those clients out of our program and into self-sufficiency, where they are paying their own rent, paying their own bills. They are followed for about a year after they leave the program to make sure they stay (stable) and housed.”

The most important thing that can be done for a veteran who has served his country is to give them a place to call home, said Jennings, the regional HUD official.

“We need landlords,” Jennings said. “We only need one room. We’ll take one at a time.”

This is exactly what Caldwell showed up for. He wants that one room. Having served from 1993 until 1996, he attended ASU for about a year before starting to work odd jobs. He tried becoming a firefighter, and when that didn’t work, went back to odd jobs, and since then, he has worked, and searched. Worked, and searched.

“I don’t want to be out there in front of stores, begging,” he said. “I want to try and get in front of that.”


Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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