We can end veteran homelessness

A total of 182 mayors, governors and county officials from across the country and across the political spectrum have signed on to the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness.

They have pledged to end homelessness among the veterans in their communities by the end of 2015.

I know that might sound like a pipe dream. After all, veteran homelessness is a problem we’ve faced for decades. In fact, almost 90 percent of all homeless veterans served prior to 9/11.

And as a country, we’ve never been able to rally the resources and the public will to get all of our veterans off the streets and into stable housing.

Thanks to federal, state and local leadership and the determined, daily work of advocates, we’re finally seeing that ending veteran homelessness is something we actually can achieve.

Phoenix and Salt Lake City have effectively ended chronic homelessness among their veterans. New Orleans is on track to end all veteran homelessness within the next six months.

St. Paul and Minneapolis have cut veteran homelessness in half over the last five years, and between the two cities there are just 18 veterans left on the streets.

Those numbers show us that even in some of our largest metropolitan areas, ending veteran homelessness is eminently achievable.

We know that through solutions like “housing first” — an evidence-based strategy to get our veterans into permanent housing before tackling issues like mental health, substance abuse or employment — we can not only do right by our veterans but also save taxpayer money.

It’s cheaper to pay someone’s rent than to pay for hospital bills, law enforcement and so many other services if they’re living on the street.

Since 2008, we’ve housed more than 73,000 veterans through the HUD-VASH program, which provides housing vouchers to help homeless veterans pay for permanent, stable housing.

And last year alone, under a program called Supportive Services for Veteran Families, we kept more than 60,000 veterans and their family members from falling into homelessness. Next year, we expect that number to grow to more than 100,000.

We know this problem can’t be solved by Washington alone. It takes local leaders to implement community-wide plans. It takes advocates and service providers who know our veterans by name and can connect them with the services and support that they need.

And it takes folks from all across the country making their voices heard and dedicating their time and energy to help these veterans find a place to call home.

Our veterans have given so much to this country.

Now it’s up to the rest of us to show who we are. It’s up to us to show them we’ve got their backs and end veteran homelessness once and for all.

First Lady Michelle Obama announced the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness on June 4.