ADLER: We can house all homeless vets

Art of the Gala Oct 23 Austin
Austin homeless vets
Photo courtesy Laura Skelding of Austin American-Statesman
Austin homeless vetsPhoto Laura Skelding of Austin American-Statesman

The last thing our veterans should have to face is homelessness. And yet in Austin at any point in time there are hundreds of homeless veterans and their families in the system.

Is it just inevitable that there should be hundreds of people who served our country now living on the streets?

Austin Mayor Steve Adler doesn’t think so. In fact, he thinks it’s unacceptable.

That’s why his office has been working to end veteran homelessness for months with its Housing Heroes project, and they’re making progress using an innovative new collaboration. And the best part is, you can help.

This past spring, ECHO asked Mayor Adler to accept the “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homeless” set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — a nationwide initiative to engage mayors’ offices in the goal of ending veterans homelessness by the end of 2015. They charged Mayor Adler with finding homes for 200 veterans to make up for those who aren’t currently in their system. Mayor Adler signed on and set an even-more ambitious goal of accomplishing this by Veterans Day, Nov. 11. And while the project may not make its goal in time, they aren’t giving up.

Since May 1, the project has found housing for 82 homeless veterans and raised $375,000 to support them. And the way they’ve done it sets a whole new precedent for addressing homelessness.

They’ve had to be innovative because the challenges are steep.

As anyone who’s heard the number that 150 people move to the Austin-area every day should know, the housing market is pretty tight, especially in the category of “affordable.” Combine that issue with the fact that sometimes homeless people have complicated issues that preclude them from being considered a “good tenant.” Income issues, physical and mental health issues, poor rental history and criminal backgrounds can deter landlords from renting to them. What this problem would need was more resources, more partners … and more understanding landlords.

Here’s what Adler’s team did:

First, they started a fund to raise money that would help mitigate risks to landlords and help vets pay for rents. The initial goal for this fund was $150,000, but it’s since blown by that goal to raise $375,000.

The team now realizes that it will need up to $500,000 to mitigate those costs, and it’s asking for your donations.

The second thing Adler’s team did was engage the Austin Apartment Association and the Austin Board of Realtors to partner with ECHO. This gives ECHO unprecedented access to property owners and managers, making the job of getting homeless veterans into apartments more doable. This is a new paradigm for dealing with homeless in Austin that will survive the Housing Heroes project.

And it’s more than just getting homeless veterans off the street. Keeping them safe, housed and on the road to self-sufficiency is the work of organizations like ECHO, Caritas, Front Steps and the Salvation Army among others, which are working together to ensure wrap-around services for the veterans in the program.

So here’s what’s needed now:

Landlords: Lease your property to a hero. If you are a property owner, register here or contact Bree Williams with ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition) at 512-940-9690. Identifying housing units is proving to be most challenging and we need all of the help we can get.

Everyone else: Donate to Mayor Adler’s Housing Heroes Fund.

We can lift veterans off the streets and into homes where they’ll be supported and where they’ll get the dignity they deserve.

Art of the Gala Oct 23 Austin
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