By Elisha Harig-Blaine.

Homelessness increased in U.S. cities from the 1980s into this century. Many thought it was an intractable problem. Some communities resorted to trying to move homeless people along with bus tickets out of town or by passing ordinances that prohibited sitting or lying on the sidewalk but did not address the underlying problems.

In recent years, however, communities have made dramatic progress in the effort to end homelessness, thanks to bold leadership, unprecedented community collaboration and historic levels of federal resources. Veteran homelessness has declined nationwide by 33 percent since 2010, paving the way for progress in other subgroups of the homeless population. Veteran homelessness in California has decreased by 28 percent since 2011.

Dedicating More Resources

A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) count of homeless people on a single night in January 2014 shows fewer homeless veterans than chronically homeless individuals or people in families.

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Total Homeless Total Persons in Families Total Chronic Total Veterans
2014 578,424 216,261 99,434 49,933

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Point-in-Time Count

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The lower number of homeless veterans is due to historic levels of resources dedicated to this group  and the use of proven strategies such as uniform and coordinated assessment, rapid rehousing andHousing First, an approach that offers permanent housing as quickly as possible for people experiencing homelessness.

Broad bipartisan Congressional support exists for programs, administered by HUD and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), that span the spectrum of housing need. As the capacity of programs — such as HUD VA Supportive Housing, Supportive Services for Veteran Families andGrant and Per Diem — has increased, the number of homeless veterans has steadily fallen.

Since fiscal year (FY) 2008, HUD has distributed more than 79,000 housing vouchers specifically for veterans, including ­­­­­14,944 in California. In addition, since FY 2009 the VA has provided nearly $1.2 billion to help prevent veteran homelessness or rapidly rehouse homeless veterans and their families. In 2015 alone, the VA has provided more than $136 million to 388 nonprofits in California.

When these historic federal investments are combined with mainstream antipoverty resources and the unique health and service benefits available to veterans, cities are showing they have the necessary resources to end veteran homelessness.

Local Leaders Pledge Support to End Veteran Homelessness

To build on the progress of the past five years and meet the federal goal of ending veteran homelessness in 2015, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the creation of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. To date, more than 700 mayors, county officials and state leaders have pledged their support, including 30 mayors and county officials in California. As elected leaders pledge their support, they are finding community organizations with new federal resources and national partners equipped with best practices developed from across the country.

In Phoenix and Salt Lake City, Mayors Greg Stanton and Ralph Becker have stepped forward and joined the efforts of local stakeholders to improve the community coordination of these resources. As a result, Phoenix and Salt Lake City have housed all chronically homeless veterans in their communities.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced in January 2015 that New Orleans had became the first city in the nation to end veteran homelessness. In June, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced her community had also effectively ended veteran homelessness. New Orleans and Houston report they have reached a point where their housing systems ensure that a homeless veteran has rapid access to a housing solution after being identified as needing assistance. Reaching this point is one of the criteria that allow cities to credibly claim they have ended veteran homelessness.

To help local stakeholders understand these resources and best practices, NLC and HUD signed a memorandum of understanding in support of the Mayors Challenge. Cities have held nine forums in communities throughout the nation, including a forum in June where participants from Californiacommunities heard from Houston officials.

The decline in veteran homelessness and the successes in Phoenix, Salt Lake City, New Orleans and Houston show that homelessness can be ended. As more cities focus on ending veteran homelessness, the improvements can be extended to other segments of the homeless population.

People may always experience homelessness, but cities are showing that by developing and maintaining effective and efficient service systems, homelessness can be reduced to the point where episodes are rare, brief and nonrecurring.

How to Get Involved

For information on the Mayors Challenge, local efforts and how the National League of Cities can help your community end veteran homelessness, email

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Elisha Harig-Blaine is principal housing associate (veterans and special needs) for the National League of Cities and can be reached at


© 2015 League of California Cities®. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the October 2015 issue of Western City® magazine, the monthly publication of the League of California Cities®. For related information, visit