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Partnership Leads to New Beginning for Homeless Veterans

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Across the country, men and women who served in the armed forces are becoming homeless at a rate that is higher than the civilian population. Sadly, this is consistent with a history of overrepresentation of veterans in the homeless population. It is unacceptable for the men and women who have dedicated their lives to protecting our freedom and our homes, and who often bear the visible and invisible scars of battle, to be sleeping on the streets and in shelters.

This year, Veteran's Day marks a new beginning for many homeless veterans in the District who are benefiting from an innovative housing program and critical community partnerships.

Our organizations -- Pathways to Housing D.C. and Miriam's Kitchen -- are working together to identify chronically homeless veterans with mental illness and/or disabling medical conditions in the District who are eligible to move into their own apartments as part of a pilot project sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Housing and Urban Development. The effort is part of an unprecedented national initiative to prevent and end homelessness for veterans in the next three years using the successful "Housing First" model, which is providing homeless people with immediate access to permanent supportive housing.

A concept originally developed by Pathways to Housing, "Housing First" has been shown to end chronic homelessness for 88 percent of participants, and prevent the recurrences of homelessness that are so common for formerly homeless individuals. (Similar efforts using an older model, which required homeless people to get clean or sober before getting an apartment have resulted in 47 percent success rates.) In the past decade, Housing First has caught on across the country. Close to home, the model is embraced in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties and Northern Virginia, as well as the District.

Daryl is one of the veterans participating in the pilot program. A guest for the past 10 years at Miriam's Kitchen, Daryl has been living on the streets for a decade. Over the years, we have come to know him as a proud veteran and talented poet who participates in Miriam's Kitchen's creative writing workshops, but has been reluctant to move inside until recently. We never gave up on him. Daryl recently moved into his own apartment in Southeast Washington, not far from his mother. When he moved, Chef Steve from Miriam's Kitchen sent him with a care package of home cooked meals, including a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. His case manager reports that he is thriving, thanks to the stability of permanent housing and support services provided by Pathways to Housing D.C. and the VA.

To date, Miriam's Kitchen has referred nine of its guests to Pathways, which through the pilot program is committed to moving 50 veterans into permanent housing by the end of November. So far, 38 veterans have enrolled in the Pathways program. Twelve veterans have moved into apartments and others are in the process of viewing or selecting units. Most of the participants served during the Vietnam War era, but a few are older veterans who served post-WWII and pre-Korea. One served two tours in Iraq.

In addition to the referrals, Miriam's Kitchen has helped to defray the cost of furniture and other household items. Support has also come from a network of nonprofits: The William S. Abell Foundation, the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, the D.C. Baptist Convention, Bethesda Cares/Bethesda United Methodist Church, and Unity Church of Washington D.C., among other private donors and foundations.

Unfortunately, gaps in funding for the full start up costs, including security deposits, home repairs, household items and apartment furnishings have the potential to slow down the project. Partnerships between nonprofits like Pathways to Housing D.C. and Miriam's Kitchen are filling this gap to ensure each veteran leaving the street will make a smooth transition into his or her new home.

This Veteran's Day, we reaffirm our commitment to ending veteran homelessness in Washington, D.C. by 2015 and providing our servicemen and women with the resources and means to remain in housing and be successful in their recovery. Together, we will provide veterans with a place to call home.

Christy Respress is Executive Director of Pathways to Housing DC and Scott Schenkelberg is Executive Director of Miriam's Kitchen.