Phoenix, AZ (population: 1,488,750)
Program Type: Public/Private Partnership
Jodi Liggett, Senior Policy Advisor - Office of the Mayor, Jodi.firstname.lastname@example.org
Bethany Samaddar, Senior Policy Advisor, H.E.R.O Initiative - Office of the Mayor, Bethany.Samaddar@phoenix.gov
Brad Bridwell, Community Development Director - Cloudbreak Communities, email@example.com
Phoenix is on target to end chronic veteran homelessness by June 2014.
Local leadership is necessary to ignite broader community support for veterans’ issues.
City led collaboration can result in better targeting of existing resources to those in need.
With Luke Air Force Base only 15 miles away, 82,000 veterans choose to call Phoenix home. The veteran population in the area is expected to increase as troops return home from Afghanistan and Iraq. Since Mayor Greg Stanton's election in 2011, he has recognized the important role that veterans play in the community and has consistently prioritized supporting veteran issues. In the arena of both employment and housing chronically homeless veterans, the city has demonstrated that targeting resources to most effectively serve the intended recipients can greatly improve results.
In 2011, The Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, in collaboration with the 100,000 Homes Campaign and the VA National Homeless Veterans Outreach Campaign initiated project H3: VETS to end chronic homelessness among veterans in the region. After consulting with each other, project stakeholders recognized their most immediate efforts required focusing on ensuring that HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers were assigned to the most vulnerable veterans. The City of Phoenix is a vital partner in this endeavor and has helped to streamline the procedure to house vulnerable veterans in a number of ways.
Various city departments provide services to veterans, and establishing interagency collaboration has ensured that these services work cohesively together. Both the Phoenix Department of Human Services and the Department of Housing play central roles in providing supportive services and housing vouchers to veterans. In the past, one housing unit would sometimes have to undergo two inspections if the new tenant was to receive services from two city departments, but agencies now collaborate so that only one inspection is needed to cover both agency requirements. These procedural adjustments helped to accelerate the process of housing chronically homeless veterans. Prior to these targeting efforts, the average time from when a veteran began to seek services until they moved into a unit was 126 days. With coordinated efforts, the time is now down to an average of 33 days.
One of the hallmarks of the H3: VETS program was creating a new staff position called a navigator. Navigators step in to provide peer support to chronically homeless veterans by walking alongside them and providing assistance in whatever is necessary to make certain they obtain and sustain housing. The navigator position, funded by the Arizona Department of Veteran Services and the Valley of the Sun United Way, has been instrumental in the success of Phoenix's HUD-VASH voucher program. The City of Phoenix has now committed Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Emergency Solution Grant (ESG) money to target resources in a similar way as H3: VETS to end all chronic homelessness in the city. In December 2012, the city issued a joint Request for Proposal from the Departments of Human Services and Housing to provide housing vouchers and supportive services, including funding navigation services for the general chronically homeless population.
Another critical role that the city has played in ending veteran homelessness is utilizing first responders to identify chronically homeless veterans. Phoenix police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and Parks and Recreation personnel regularly interact with chronic homeless veterans. These first responders now routinely call navigators when they meet an individual who may qualify for a HUD-VASH voucher. The navigator then works with the local VA and can quickly identify whether the individual qualifies for services. If they do, the navigator is dispatched to the location of the homeless veteran to initiate contact.
When H3:VETS first started, a registry week was set up in which volunteers identified chronically homeless veterans and addressed their level of need using a Vulnerability Index (VI). The 100,000 Homes Campaign created the VI, a survey that assesses a homeless individual's likelihood of death based on specific health indicators. These indicators, rooted in medical and academic research, help service providers know who is in critical need of housing and prioritize them to receive assistance.
The concerted effort of targeting services to those most in need has had visible effects. While the number of homeless veterans has remained steady, the number of chronically homeless veterans has dramatically declined by nearly 53 percent. In March 2012, 222 chronically homeless veterans were identified at the annual Phoenix Stand Down, a well-attended outreach event for homeless veterans. At the March, 2013 Stand Down, 156 chronically homeless veterans were identified. An additional 50 HUD-VASH vouchers have since been administered, leaving an estimated 105 chronically homeless veterans are still in Phoenix. With 100 additional HUD-VASH vouchers recently awarded in Phoenix and 50 in nearby Mesa, H3: VETS hopes to achieve its goal of ending chronic veteran homelessness in Phoenix by June, 2014.
Beyond chronic homelessness, unemployment rates for recently returned veterans in Arizona, similar to national trends, are much higher in comparison to other segments of the population. In 2012, the non-veteran unemployment rate in Arizona was 7.7 percent. The unemployment rate for post 9/11 veterans in Arizona was more than twice that, 15.9 percent. In order to address this critical issue, Mayor Stanton piloted a veteran employment initiative to provide opportunities for veterans to engage with the local business sector.
With the assistance of the Military Veterans Commission, a board of local leaders in the veteran community that advise the City Council, Mayor Stanton implemented the Hire, Educate, Recruit and Organize (HERO) Initiative. HERO has successfully connected local small businesses and corporate employers with veterans at strategically planned hiring events. The HERO initiative takes a targeted approach in reaching out to employers in industries in which military experience provides highly transferrable skills, such as logistics and advanced business services. The employers are pre-screened to ensure they are actively hiring, able to pay a minimum of $12/hour, and willing to interview on-site. The employers also receive educational training that highlights veterans as assets and demystifies common misconceptions associated with hiring veterans. Veteran participants received pre-session interview help and resume assistance to translate their military experience to a civilian audience. At the first HERO event in December of 2012, 30 employers and 170 veterans attended and 20 job offers were extended as a result of the event.
The HERO initiative started as a pilot program by the mayor's office and has now become a permanent fixture in the economic development priorities of the city. Following the successful demonstration of the first HERO event, the City Council recently unanimously approved the adoption of the HERO initiative. This will guarantee that city attention and resources continue to be available to educate the local business community and city department supervisors on the benefits of hiring veterans, as well as provide ongoing tangible opportunities to connect employers with well qualified veteran job seekers.
In both H3: VETS and HERO, Phoenix officials have provided leadership. Their leadership and support of collaborative efforts for veterans has improved how services are delivered. As a result, the lives of veterans have improved and the broader community has been strengthened. With the number of veterans increasing in cities across the country, the lessons from Phoenix are timely reminders of the importance of local leaders in ensuring all veterans receive the recognition and support they deserve.