It Started as a challenge by Abilene Mayor Anthony Williams to find housing for 30 homeless veterans. The total number housed through the challenge, including the family members of those 30 vets, is 38 adults and eight kids. That number also includes 10 vets over 60 who were previously living either on the streets or in shelters. The 100 day challenge was created in the hopes of restoring dignity and self worth in the lives of men and women who fought for the freedoms of America. .
Partnering with the West Texas Homeless Network, that challenge went into full effect where counselors and staff providers made housing homeless veterans their number one priority in order to make veteran homelessness in Abilene a thing of the past. “During the 100 days of this challenge, our local housing and service providers redoubled their efforts to house as many veterans as possible in order to make veteran homelessness in Abilene something that is rare, brief, and nonrecurring,” said the West Texas Homeless Network.
It seems those efforts from the Mayors challenge has yielded results. 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.
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, but like crabs in a barrel or government agencies fighting for headline news, the Veteran Administration issued data disputing the assertion that Abilene is either first in Texas or ninth in the nation to win that title.
Instead of congratulating the Abilene community in their effort to house homeless veterans, the VA issued a statement that 3 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.