Philly boot camp hones strategies to help homeless veterans

     At the Veterans Service Conference, discussion groups set goals for the next 100 days. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    At the Veterans Service Conference, discussion groups set goals for the next 100 days. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    In 2010, the Obama administration announced an ambitious plan to end homelessness among the country’s veterans by 2015.

    This week, at a two-day “housing boot camp” in Philadelphia, Veterans Affairs officials are meeting with community stakeholders to figure out how to achieve this goal.

    The conference room at a Center City hotel was all but covered in sticky notes and handwritten charts. Representatives from all over the country sat in focus groups and compared successes and failures in their efforts to combat homelessness among the country’s veterans. The boot camp brought together stakeholders to exchange ideas, and to come up with new strategies.

    The boot camp helps to streamline the work of many groups, according to Vince Kane, the acting executive director for VA homeless programs.

    “How do we use our resources both inside of the VA and inside the local communities to really target those veterans?” he asked. “To connect them to permanent housing, to health care, to other services—to really help them get off the streets and really move forward with their recovery in the community.”

    Jake Maguire, who works with the national 100,000 Homes campaign, says connecting federal policymakers with those working on the local level brings results.

    “Then you’ve had this feedback loop where communities say, ‘Hey, if you could change this one little thing that you probably don’t even know is holding us up, then we could house a lot more people,'” he said.

    VA officials say they are learning to reach out to veterans more effectively. One of the key strategies, Kane said, is adding formerly homeless veterans to the outreach team.

    “Really making sure that it’s a vet contacting a vet, along with our community partner, and along with the VA,” he explained.

    Kane says the 2012 national homeless count found more than 62,000 vets on the streets, but he expects that number to be significantly lower in the 2013 count. Those numbers are not yet available.

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