Using a two-pronged approach and collaborating with nonprofit organizations, the state of Virginia made one of the biggest impacts on veteran homelessness in the nation. It’s a process that other states are reviewing and one that has drawn major interest in solving what many Americans feel is a national crisis.
Things got started when Gov. Terry McAuliffe led a statewide campaign to end veteran homelessness in Virginia by the end of 2015. He was joined by several mayors, homeless advocates, and other nonprofits and organizations in launching an initiative called the 100 Day Challenge in September 2014, an effort meant to kick-start the state toward reaching its goal.
The 100 Day Challenge ended Jan. 31, 2015, with participants soundly exceeding their goal. The goal was to house or to be in the process of housing 370 veterans during the initial challenge, and by the time the campaign had ended, 338 veterans were no longer homeless and 124 had a housing voucher or rental assistance.
Local Support Was Key
That’s where the second prong of the approach came into play, says Jill Fox of the Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness, one of the lead sponsors of the 100 Day Challenge. It is a statewide push in concept, but the heavy lifting is happening at the local level.
“This was extremely hard and arduous work, and what’s been done is amazing,” says Fox, deputy director of the VCEH. “And all of this happed at the local level. We’ve pulled it together at the state level, and that has been helpful in terms of scale and addressing policy challenges more efficiently.
“But the people who made this happen are the ones on the ground engaging veterans every day, meeting them where they are, and providing choices and options to get them off the streets. This really is about local people.”
Working Together to Reach Bold Goals
The 100 Day Challenge was created after a 2014 point-in-time count showed that on any given night in Virginia, some 617 veterans are homeless. To address the issue, a two-day boot camp was held and featured team members from four communities across the state: Richmond, Roanoke, Hampton Roads and the Peninsula.
The teams came together and considered their needs and resources, established strategies and processes, “and created really bold goals to house veterans within 100 days,” Fox says. “That was the beginning to better working relationships.”
Each of the four communities doubled the number of veterans who were being placed monthly into housing throughout the effort.
“That’s huge,” Fox says. “That really shows they ramped up their effort.”
Through this campaign, Virginia became the first state to truly confront the problem on a state level. And it has become a beacon of sorts for other states and communities that are also working to end homelessness of veterans – a mission that is prevalent across the country.
The work continues, Fox says. The communities are in the middle of their next 100 Day Challenge as they focus on their goal for the end of 2015.
“We reached our goal, and we celebrated at the beginning of February,” Fox says of the first challenge. “It was amazing, a really great accomplishment. Then all four communities set another 100 Day Challenge goal.
“They got back together and did a review of the progress, what was working, what wasn’t, and set even more goals on how to improve and sustain the effort.”