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Mayor’s veteran homelessness campaign nears goal

Brendan Cheney | Capital

As the number of homeless veterans in New York City continues to trend sharply downward, the de Blasio administration's newly reemphasized goal of entirely eliminating veteran homelessness in the five boroughs by the end of the year seems within reach.

The trend began in the last year of the Bloomberg administration, with the number of homeless veterans decreasing 72 percent since the beginning of 2013, after a concerted city-federal effort, to a current estimate total of 1,000 homeless veterans. The estimated total in Jan. 2013 was 3,547; in Jan. 2014, it was 1,645.

"We commit to ending chronic veteran homelessness by the end of this year," de Blasio said at his State of the City speech on Tuesday. "Those who fight to protect our freedom abroad should never be left without a home.”

(The term "chronic," by the definition of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, refers here to "an individual or family with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.” But a de Blasio spokeswoman told Capital the mayor was referring to an elimination of homelessness among all veterans, both chronically homeless veterans—of which there are roughly 75 in the entire city—and the others.)  

Federal agencies began work with the Bloomberg administration and city nonprofit organizations after President Obama declared a goal of eliminating veteran homelessness nationwide by 2015. 

The New York City Coalition on the Continuum of Care, a group representing homeless advocacy organizations and shelter operators, was charged with overseeing federal homeless housing funding, coordinating with the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs and the Veterans Administration. In 2014, according to Supportive Housing Network of New York deputy executive director Nicole Branca, the organizations folded their efforts into a formal initiative called Mission Home.  

Notwithstanding de Blasio's dramatic declaration in the State of the City speech last week, the administration had already committed to end veteran homelessness by 2015 in the housing plan document, Housing New York, which was released in May 2014. 

But the city is expanding its effort this year, in hopes of reaching its 2015 goal. According to de Blasio spokeswoman Marti Adams, the city is adding a new veterans preference for supportive housing apartments, which include services like counseling, case management, health, and mental health. She also said the city is creating "an enhanced rapid re-housing program based out of the 30th street DHS shelter now offers staff 12 hours a day to support veterans who might otherwise enter the shelter system."

And, Adams said, the city will use a rental subsidy program created this fall, called Living in Communities, to house veterans. 

Once the 1,000 homeless veterans are housed, Adams said, the administration will ensure that there are programs to quickly house any newly homeless veterans. Some advocates refer to this concept as "functional zero." 

"A big part of ending veteran homelessness is ensuring a rapid response system is in place to address immediate needs of newly homeless veterans, and that housing supply meets demand on a consistent basis, and that’s what the city is committing to putting in place," Adams said. 

*The 2013 and 2014 estimates were conducted as part of the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate. The estimate for 2015 is a rough estimate provided by the de Blasio administration. The 2015 HOPE count was on Monday and the results are not available yet.