San Antonio has effectively ended local veteran homelessness, Mayor Ivy Taylor said while surrounded by veteran advocates on the steps of City Hall Friday morning.
In January 2015, Taylor committed to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, which pushes a “functional zero” goal: every veteran in the city has access to permanent housing and the community has the resources to rapidly stabilize any veterans on the brink of homelessness.
As of Friday, San Antonio can officially check both of those boxes, thanks to the collaborative efforts among the City, several nonprofit organizations, and business sector partners. USAA contributed $2.1 million to the initiative in January to boost the local, state, and federal support.
“I applaud the efforts of our dedicated coalition of partners and the tremendous support USAA provided earlier this year which helped us serve those veterans with the greatest needs,” said Taylor, who was accompanied by HUD Secretary Julián Castro, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, several City Council members, and a group of community partners to show their support.
Through the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness initiative, more than 1,335 local homeless veterans were moved into permanent housing, Taylor said, including 123 chronically homeless veterans who experienced severe barriers to housing stability. The work of local organizations like South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH), Haven for Hope, SAMMinistries, and Family Endeavors, along with the South Texas Veterans Healthcare System, the American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program, the San Antonio Housing Authority and the Housing Authority of Bexar County provided special outreach and engagement, housing placement, rapid identification of homeless individuals, and other supportive services to veterans across the region.
“It is not surprising that our city … that is proudly known as Military City, U.S.A., should do right by our veterans, our men and women who served and sacrificed so much,” Castro said. “The least that we can do is to make sure that every single one of them has a place to call home in this nation that they risk so much to protect.”
San Antonio is one of more than 850 communities across the nation that participate in the initiative. Twenty-three other communities and two states have achieved the functional zero goal. National veteran homelessness has decreased by 36% between 2010 and 2015, Castro said.
“As we serve our veterans, we’ll also continue to serve all of those who find themselves homeless – men, women, and children of every background – and we’ll work to end family, youth and chronic homelessness in the same intensity,” he said.
The White House Joining Forces Initiative is supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National League of Cities.
Seth Jarmon, an Army veteran with a criminal history, shared his story of overcoming homelessness and addiction with the help of Haven for Hope and National Veterans Outreach Program. After serving on the U.S. Army Hawk Missile Crew, Jarmon returned home, shaken by his experiences, and soon found himself living on the streets. He eventually transitioned to living in the Haven courtyard.
May 25 will mark five years clean for Jarmon as well as five years of living in a home independently.
“There are organizations out there that are willing to help veterans. I can honestly say that because I have been a recipient of that,” he said. After transitioning through various programs, he eventually went to the National Veterans Outreach Program where he was offered a job in the shipping department and later as an outreach specialist, despite his criminal history. It was only up from there.
“I didn’t think that (anybody) would give me a chance, but they gave me a chance and the doors opened for me,” he said. “They gave me a chance to get some respect back, dignity back, and all these things that I lost because of my addiction and going back and forth to jail and prison. … They allowed me to see some light and I’m still in that light today because of these different programs.”
Jarmon’s story is one of success, but the hard work needs to continue, Mayor Taylor said.
“Homelessness really is a complex issue and the path that leads veterans to homelessness is rarely straight forward and (it) requires a community commitment to provide a support network of services and resources to resolve it,” she said.
Reaching the virtual zero goal, she said, doesn’t necessarily mean that there will no longer be any veterans living on San Antonio streets.
“That’s not the point of the effort,” she said. “The point of the effort is that we have come together as a community to really make a huge difference. … We all have to be vigilant. We’ll continue to work, but now we know that as a coalition and a community that we can do it.”
There could be people who reemerge onto the street today, she added, “so it’s a process in order for us to maintain functional zero where we’re really seeking to ensure that every veteran has a place to stay.”
This article has been updated with the up-to-date number of homeless in San Antonio streets according to the 2016 Point in Time count.
Top image: Chris Dupler, former veteran, transitioned from Haven for Hope to a permanent apartment for homeless veterans two months ago. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.