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City has hopes to end veteran homelessness in Denton by 2020

City has hopes to end veteran homelessness in Denton by 2020

City has hopes to end veteran homelessness in Denton by 2020
February 14
00:49 2019

At the last year’s State of the City Address, Denton Mayor Chris Watts spoke about his plan to end veteran homelessness by the year 2020 by dispersing home vouchers, bettering coordination between local services and finding other initiatives that can help accomplish the county’s objective.

Last fall, Watts signed on to the Mayor Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, an initiative that brings local, state and federal agencies together to help coordinate with cities to end homelessness.

“Since we’ve got elected we’ve been able to acquire 20 veterans administrations supported housing vouchers from housing and urban development,” Watts said. “That literally allows 20 homeless veterans to receive housing. They also receive wrap-around services from different agencies to help them with maybe financial planning, their medications, getting to appointments — whatever they need.”

Courtney Cross, the director of homeless initiatives he Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers are currently distributed through the Veteran’s Administration in collaboration with the Denton Housing Authority.

“The Housing Authority works with the VA to identify potential voucher recipients,” Cross said. “Something that we’ve been able to do locally, which has been a really exciting accomplishment for our community, is use the data that we’ve collected to identify veterans experiencing homelessness that would really benefit from these vouchers. So, we sat down with the the VA and Housing Authority and identified potential candidates and they were able to contact and engage with those candidates and get them housed.“

While the vouchers are helpful on the mission to end homelessness, they are limited to available federal funding. Still, the city is attempting to find other solutions to reach their 2020 goal. The United Way is working on finding possible funding sources to continue pushing towards this objective.

“We’re trying to get creative in ways to increase access to services locally in a way that’s sustainable,” Cross said. “United Way, as part of it’s initiative, is going to apply for some veteran housing funding through HUD called Supportive Services for Veteran Families. That would allow us to hire a case manager and have funding to provide rapid rehousing service, so funding for veterans who have lost their housing.”

According to United Way’s homelessness data for Denton Countypublished in December 2018, there are approximately 49 homeless veterans in Denton County.

“As is typical in any assistance programs, adequate funding, access to housing, sufficient supportive services needed to help someone achieve housing stability and ability to prioritize are all obstacles to ending someone’s homelessness,” said Danielle Shaw, community development manager for the city of Denton. “Veterans are especially susceptible as the root cause of homelessness with veterans is more commonly trauma and self-medicating leading to higher rates of substance abuse so the need for well-trained trauma care and behavioral health resources is a vital component.”

Cross said with more recent military tours and a younger veteran population, there are higher rates of suicide, and those factors lead to a higher rate of substance use as a coping mechanism.

“We know veterans are statistically less likely to present as a veteran when they are experiencing homelessness, and they are less likely to access mental health services due to stigma,” Cross said. “So, those two things together can really keep someone from access services maybe in a time that crucial to them and can lead to them, for lack of better terms, spiraling, and finding themselves in a housing crisis with no real way to get out.”

Cross said coordination will be important in accomplishing the 2020 plan, especially from the real estate community in Denton, and that Denton needs landlords to open their existing units to some of the veteran served by the nonprofit agencies.

“A good majority of the folks that come through some of the non-profit agencies in Denton County have other barriers to housing like rental history, or criminal history that may make them a liability for landlord or property managers to rent to them,” Cross said. “One of the biggest obstacles will be training the nonprofit partners on how to effectively collaborate with the real estate community, but also retraining the real estate industry to be more trusting and accepting of people with backgrounds that they might perceive as a risk.”

For the time being, limited resources and services will be prioritized to veterans to ensure the goal is reached. Shaw said she believe ending veteran homelessness will give the community the “know-how” to effectively end homeless in Denton altogether.

“The best opportunity with this initiative will be the enhanced coordination of services and the improvements in our response system,” Shaw said. “By targeting a specific population within the total population of people experiencing homelessness, we are able to test the effectiveness of programs and services at a smaller scale, improve upon those efforts and build a stronger system that we can expand on to ensure homelessness is rare, brief, and nonrecurring.”

Featured Image: Signs outside the entrance of Denton’s Veteran Center. Homeless veteran vouchers are currently coordinated through the Veterans Administration in collaboration with the Denton Housing Authority. Image by: Jacob Ostermann. 

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Danielle Shaw is the community development manager for the city of Denton, and not United Way of Denton. 

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Xavier Spurlock

Xavier Spurlock

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