Thoughts on the National Forum on Ending Veterans Homelessness 

Mark J. Nolan, Chair, Danbury Housing Partnership 

On December 7-8, 2010 I had the privilege of representing Danbury in Washington, DC at the National Forum on Ending Veterans Homelessness co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH).  The event brought together more than 400 participants from throughout the nation along with key Federal cabinet secretaries to plan collaborative efforts to prevent and end homelessness among veterans- a group that, shockingly, accounted for 13% of all persons experiencing homelessness in America last year according to USICH. 

The forum provided a fantastic opportunity to interact directly with Cabinet secretaries, share Danbury’s progress in implementing its Ten-Year Plan To End Homelessness and learn about strategies to increase the supply of affordable housing being implemented by our colleagues in communities around the country.  Presentations were made by the Secretaries of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Labor, and Health and Human Services as well as by the executive director of the USICH, which is composed of all Federal Cabinet secretaries.

Discussions at the forum identified the following essential elements of a successful approach to effectively prevent and end homelessness in America: 

1.    The need for an interagency approach at all levels of government, such as that represented by the USICH on the Federal level, to include State and local governments.   This effort must include partnerships between government agencies, locally based non-profits and the business community such as those envisioned as part of the Ten-Year Plan approach adopted by the Greater Danbury region. 

2.     The need to employ a “housing first” strategy whereby Veterans who are homeless are put into a stable housing environment as soon as possible and provided with needed social and medical supportive services to break the ineffective and costly revolving door use of emergency care.  An example of such a strategy is the HUD-VASH Voucher partnership between HUD and VA that provides resources to Veterans to gain private rental apartments and connects them with required supportive services.

3.     The need for accurate and complete information on the extent of homelessness and the needs of those who face homelessness through full implementation of the Homeless Management Information System and the Annual Point in Time Count.  Danbury is fortunate to have the Greater Danbury Continuum of Care at the forefront of our local efforts to implement both of these crucial information-gathering tasks.

While it was painful to learn that those who have worn our nation’s uniform and defended our freedoms are among those most effected by the horrors of homelessness, the lessons learned in addressing homelessness among veterans can be readily extended to address homelessness among non-veteran families and individuals.   By applying the lessons learned in dealing with veterans homelessness, we can expand our collaborative efforts to prevent and address homelessness among individuals and families- including the heart-rending predicament of homeless children and young adults who so desperately need our help.

Since returning to Danbury I have had a chance to discuss the information provided at the forum with local partners to see what recommendations we could put forth to improve our efforts on the local and State levels.  I will share these recommendations with you in another opinion piece to be released shortly.

I invite you to learn more about the Danbury Housing Partnership and our efforts to address the issues of homelessness and affordable housing by visiting www.danburyhousingpartnership.org.  I also invite you to volunteer to join us in this community-wide effort to strengthen the Danbury region through the provision of affordable housing, workforce housing and senior housing for area residents.

For more information, please contact Chairman Mark J. Nolan at 203-797-8255 or visit www.danburyhousingpartnership.org.