Wednesday, May 11, 2016

MWHITF: Meeting 3 - Veterans

Based on the most recent census data, there are about 21.8 million U.S. veterans alive today.  Of that, less than 50,000 are homeless, according to the latest HUD Point in Time (PIT) counts, which also indicate that that number is trending downward.  See here and here.  So, let's say roughly 4% of U.S. veterans are known to be homeless.

If the information given the Task Force at its third meeting was correct, there are 7,500 veterans living in Polk County and 25,000 in Marion County, so, Marion and Polk combined might be home to as many as 1,300 homeless veterans (32,500 x .04 = 1,300).  See here.  That number seems high, given that the last Marion/Polk PIT count identified only 116 homeless veterans, and a recent estimate by staff at the ARCHES Project put the total at around 300.  See here.

Looking at the numbers another way, only 7.3% of Americans are veterans (by gender, 13.4% of males and 1.4% females).  See here.  Based on the national PIT figures, 8.6% of all homeless were veterans in 2014, and in 2015, that figure rose to 11%.

Based on the most recent local PIT figures, 6% of the homeless in Marion and Polk Counties are veterans (116/1,660 = .06).  See here.  Omitting the homeless school children from that equation increases the percentage to 10%, which approximates the national average.

So it was a bit of a surprise to hear the Task Force at its third meeting told there are something like 3,586 homeless
veterans in Marion and Polk Counties,  based on the "national average." See   here.

It would seem that someone got confused, and applied the percent of homeless who are veterans (11% nationally) to the number of veterans (7,521 in Polk and 25,086 in Marion), instead of the number of homeless (1,660 in both Marion and Polk).

That would have put the estimate at 183 homeless veterans in both counties, a figure that's comfortably higher than the most recent PIT count of 116, but lower than the ARCHES staff estimate of 300.

One of the presenters, acknowledging the estimate of 3,586 was "skewed", said the true number was something like 5,000 across the state.  However, he did not say where that number came from.

The state counted 13,176 homeless in Oregon in January 2015, the most recent PIT figures available, of whom 1,467 or 11% report being veterans, about what you would expect.  See here.   

Looked at another way, Oregon has an estimated 331,632 veterans.  See here. If we apply the 4% national average to that figure, then over 13,000 of them are homeless.  While five thousand seems more reasonable guess than thirteen thousand, should we be crafting policy based on what appear to be SWAGs?

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans advises that the first thing you can do to help homeless veterans is, "Determine the need in your community."  See here.  But if you predicted there would be a single question from the Task Force about the numbers presented at this latest meeting, you were wrong.

It wasn't that kind of meeting.  See here.  It was a yellow ribbonny kind of meeting.  One Task Force member was even observed crying.

Although told at the beginning of the meeting (correctly) that a majority of homeless veterans are Vietnam-era vets (i.e., over 50), at least some on the Task Force misunderstood that to mean most are Vietnam vets (i.e., served in-country) and suffering from combat-related PTSD and system trauma.

The message was clear: in offering these homeless aid and assistance is the promise of redemption for not having "welcomed them home in their own time."  They, unlike other homeless, are "owed."

Maybe the words "veteran" and "homeless" should not be in the same sentence, as was stated more than once at the meeting.  But should "child" and "homeless", or "family" and "homeless", or "youth" and "homeless" be in the same sentence?

Talk to a foster child aging out of care about system trauma and PTSD.  One in three will be homeless at some point.  No yellow ribbons for them, though, no glory for us to share in, and no redemption for our collective failure to care for them as we should have.

The causes of veteran homelessness are the same as for everyone else, but they're difficult to understand and to talk about: lack of affordable housing, lack of living wage income, lack of job skills, lack of access to mental health and addiction services. 

We need to talk about veteran homelessness, not to tie a yellow ribbon around it, but because there are definite and deep resources available to veterans that are not available to non-veterans.  For good or ill, that's what makes homeless veterans different from other homeless.

It was, therefore, odd that the Task Force members seemed on the one hand to care so much about veteran homelessness, and on the other, to be so unfamiliar with  the veteran-specific programs and resources available in Marion and Polk Counties, especially when the information is so readily available.  The Salem Housing Authority, for example, issues regular briefs on its HUD-VASH program.  See here.  One member of the Task Force didn't even know who decides who gets how many HUD-VASH program vouchers, and none of them knew how many are assigned to Salem (63).

Even the person there to speak about the area's various veteran-specific programs said she couldn't "speak to details about that [SHA's HUD-VASH program] because I don't know all of the details", and had little more than that
Mr. Pygott and Ms. Strike
to say about her agency's "SSVF" and "EHA Vet DRF" programs.  (Yes, she referred to them by their acronyms.)

The meeting's consequent emphasis on the details of the private, non-profit program at Home of the Brave (mentioned here), reprised the subtle message of earlier Task Force meetings: we don't need no stinkin' government, it just gets in the way, or in the case of veterans, caused the problem in the first place.        

So, it was no great surprise to us that no one said anything about the recent recommendation (mentioned here) by the Salem Housing Advisory Committee that the Salem Housing Authority be allowed to apply for a grant of up to $1.25M from the Oregon Health Authority for a Housing Firstish program that would assist over a period of nine months as many as 30 homeless and at-risk veterans to secure permanent supportive housing.  (Note: at its meeting on May 9, 2016, the SHA Board of Commissioners authorized SHA to apply for the grant.)  More about that program if and when SHA is awarded the grant.

To be eligible for Home of the Brave, a vet must be ready and willing to deal with issues like mental illness and addiction.  In the two and a half years of its existence, 32 veterans have graduated HOB's program and secured permanent housing.  But, 73 others were turned away, many, if not all, of whom would be eligible for the proposed SHA/OHA program, which takes veterans "where they are" and makes receipt of supportive services voluntary.  [August 2016 Update: HOB has placed its clients in other programs and closed its doors for undisclosed reasons which are suspected to be financial.]           

Mr. Sparks, Mr. Smith, Mr. Bobb, Mr. Crowder, Mr. Hall
So, maybe we do need government for some things - the harder things that others can't or won't do.

Speaking of which, we need the Task Force to  prepare for meetings by educating themselves about subject-area programs and services, so they can ask intelligent questions and take much more of an active role in both the process and substance of these meetings, if we are to expect much of anything to come out of them, which at this point is extremely doubtful, and so all are saying.

After the "information" portion of the meeting, committee assignments were announced and acquiesced to in accordance with Janet's Rules of Procedure, followed by her draft "strategic plan."  For some reason, this inspired several rounds of self-congratulation.
"This is a moving train.  This has already left the station.  People are already starting to make a difference, and I couldn't be prouder that to be a part of a community that says, let's go, let's do this."
"I'm starting to see some meat on the bones, basically.  When I came in here four months ago, February, I was, "We need to move, we need to move now."...But I'm starting to see the constructs of a real animal with muscle on it...I think we're going to do real well by what we're doing right now, taking the time to analyze, to break [the problem] into pieces, look at those pieces, and get answers...I applaud, actually, Commissioner Carlson for starting this whole thing out, so, thank you."

The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 6, when the Task Force will focus on the mentally ill, addicted and therefore chronically homeless.  That will also be the focus of the July meeting.  See here.

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