THE BLOG
08/19/2013 11:35 am ET Updated Oct 19, 2013

We Can Beat Phoenix in Ending Veteran Homelessness

You might be wondering what I was doing at boot camp last week. Well, let me just say that this was a very special kind of boot camp.

The Rapid Results Boot Camps are designed to help jurisdictions, where SSVF grantees operate, unleash their collective power to mobilize resources on behalf of homeless veterans. VA, HUD and community partners - namely the 100,000 Homes Campaign and the Rapid Results Institute - have hosted three boot camps across the country this year with an eye to energize cities and counties to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the national goal.

President Obama's remarks lauding Phoenix for being on track to end homelessness among veterans by 2014 raised the stakes on Tuesday as boot camp started. Phoenix has just overhauled its entire system to make it more efficient and committed to funding the housing it needed for the vets.

Now, who could beat Phoenix?

Some figures put veteran homelessness well above 200,000 eight years ago. Now, the count is around 62,000 nationwide. Much of this progress needs to be credited to recent initiatives sponsored by the VA with its partners: HUD, nonprofits, and community members.

With all the excellent work done so far to empower homeless veterans to rebuild their lives through short-term and long-term interventions, the VA knows that, while ending veteran homelessness is achievable, the climb will be steep and all hands are definitely needed on deck.

At the Philadelphia boot camp, multidisciplinary teams from various locations on the East Coast and Salt Lake City set long-term goals to end veteran homelessness by leveraging local resources - public and private - to house as many veterans as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.

The DC team set the right goal for the City, "unreasonable but achievable" as Nadim Matta of the Rapid Results Institute put it. In other words, set the bar higher than you can imagine because we know this is the mindset we need to do what Phoenix has done.

This is the kind of goal you need to end veteran homelessness in a city. Team DC will be housing 2,500 veterans over the next 29 months. The clock is ticking quickly toward December 2015 and being in the nation's capital has special meaning when it comes to ending veteran homelessness.

To make this happen, advocates and "change agents" from the public sector and the nonprofit arena will be moving heaven and earth over the next 2-plus years.

It was great to hear all the ideas people shared at the DC table as we developed our approach. One of the first decisions was to develop a "universal register" for the nation's capital - read one single list for Washington with the names of all the vets who have no homes on it. For homeless systems pundits, this is big stuff. The universal register will be the first in the country.

To expedite the housing placement process, the group also decided that nonprofit staff would be trained and certified in housing inspections.

The hope is that, in addition to ending homelessness among veterans, some of the best practices in resource mobilization and collective impact will transfer over to the rest of the homeless service delivery, allowing other groups to channel their efforts to maximize their impact at the local level.