Mayor says this city is first in Texas to house all homeless vets. Here’s the catch

The City of Abilene has eliminated homelessness among veterans, its Mayor says.
The City of Abilene has eliminated homelessness among veterans, its Mayor says. Video screengrab

Abilene, Texas, with a population of just over 120,000, has become the first city in Texas to effectively eliminate veteran homelessness, and the ninth nationally, the city’s mayor says.

The city celebrated reaching “functional zero,” a designation from Texas Homeless Network that means the number of actual homeless veterans in town is less than the number that the city is able to place. Functional zero is a concept that takes into account the segment of the homeless population that either just became homeless, or for that segment of the population whom the outreach, for whatever reason, simply hasn’t reached.

“I am so proud to stand here on this day with the achievement that not just the mayor or individuals — but team Abilene — has accomplished today, and that’s something all of us can be proud of,” Williams said on Thursday, according to KTAB.

The celebration came at the completion of the Mayors’ Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, which Williams challenged Abilene to join in October 2018, according to KTXS.

The city partnered with Texas Homeless Network to find housing for 30 homeless veterans in the past few months in order to get to zero, KXVA reported. The total number housed through this effort, including the family members of those 30 vets, is 38 adults and eight kids, according to the station. That number also includes 10 vets over 60 who were previously living either on the streets or in shelters, KXVA reported.

The West Texas Veterans’ Affairs Health Care System and other local and regional agencies were also involved in the effort to house the city’s homeless veteran population, according to previous reporting from KTXS. But VA data disputes the assertion that Abilene is either first in Texas or ninth in the nation to either designation.

Three entire states, and 66 communities had announced an end to homelessness among veterans as of Feb. 19, according to the VA’s own “Ending Veteran Homelessness” effort. In Texas alone, those communities include Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

The discrepancy centers around competing definitions of “functional zero,” which make it easier, or harder, for cities to claim they’ve eliminated homelessness among veterans, Michelle Parrish, grant director at Community Foundation of Abilene, told McClatchy.

“While other cities have reached ‘functional zero’ under a less stringent measure developed by the VA and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), Abilene has achieved what only 8 other communities have accomplished under the more stringent, Built For Zero measure/standard,” Parrish said.

The eight other communities that have previously received this recognition are: Rockford, IL; Arlington, VA; Montgomery County, MD; Fort Myers, FL; Gulfport, MS, Riverside, CA, Norman, OK, and Bergen County, NJ, Parrish told McClatchy.

There is no one-size-fits-all plan that works for helping the homeless. But rather than ignore those living on the streets, use these suggestions to guide your desire to reach out.

Matt is an award-winning real time reporter and a University of Texas at Austin graduate who’s been based at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 2011. His regional focus is Texas, and that makes sense. He’s only lived there his whole life.