Multi-city initiative claims to have ended veteran homelessness; - KCTV5

Multi-city initiative claims to have ended veteran homelessness; some say that's a bold statement

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Local leaders say they've eliminated homelessness among area veterans, but organizations that work closely with veterans say the numbers tell a different story. (Natalie Davis/KCTV5 News) Local leaders say they've eliminated homelessness among area veterans, but organizations that work closely with veterans say the numbers tell a different story. (Natalie Davis/KCTV5 News)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Local leaders say they've eliminated homelessness among area veterans, but some organizations that work closely with veterans say the numbers tell a different story.

Two years ago, the mayors of Kansas City, MO, Kansas City, KS and Independence, MO joined a nationwide initiative.

A coalition of more than 60 local agencies worked together to get homeless veterans off the streets. Army veteran Duane Smith was homeless for three years.

"You kind of feel worthless. You keep trying, but you can't get ahead," said Smith.

Thanks to work by the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, he now has a roof over his head. 

“Takes a load off. Got a place of your own, turn the key, you go in, cook yourself something to eat, get a good night’s sleep, get up and go to work and live my life," said Smith. 

Army veteran Rick Mahaney also benefited from new permanent housing options.

"It's made a big difference in my life. It's the first time in my life I've ever had my own house and I've got my two kitty cats and a puppy, my family. It's very nice to have your own place to live and to have that security for the first time in my life," said Mahaney.

The Coalition claims to have ended homelessness. The mayors recently received confirmation from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Veteran Affairs: "We are pleased to confirm that the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness . . . has effectively ended homelessness among Veterans. We are confident that the infrastructure and systems you have built will ensure that any Veteran experiencing homelessness in the region will get the support they need to quickly obtain a permanent home."

“To be in a position where we can declare a functional zero is something that maybe even a couple years ago, we never thought possible,” said Scott Wagner, mayor pro tem of Kansas City, MO.
 
So what is “functional zero?”

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, “functional zero” is reached when the number of homeless veterans is less than the average number of vets being connected with permanent housing each month.

It's a bold statement to say they’ve ended veteran homelessness in the community. Some local organizations who work to combat veteran homelessness disagree with their progress report.

“My main concern is that it minimizes the need that still exists. People hear 'functional zero' and they think the problem’s gone away, and it hasn’t,” said Art Fillmore, founder of Stand Down.

Just two weeks ago, Fillmore hosted an event that offers resources to homeless vets. He says 408 veterans attended. Of those, more than half - 56 percent - were homeless.

It comes down to their differing definitions of homelessness. For Stand Down, the definition is more broad and includes people who might be couch surfing or living in motels. 

"You’re homeless because you don’t have the same bed, the same roof to go home to every night," said Fillmore.

For the VA and HUD, Evie Craig - president and CEO of reStart - told KCTV5 you’re only homeless if you live on the street or in a shelter.
Tremendous progress has been made, but there’s more work to be done.

“It’s great that we’re getting there, but we’re not there yet by any means for those that you see out on the street every day. There are a lot of them; way too many,” Fillmore said.

The mayors who spoke at Monday's event agree that this is just a starting point.

"We're in it for the long haul," said Independence mayor Eileen Weir.

Sly James, mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, left a video message because he had other obligations in Columbia Monday. He said the problem of homelessness is an ongoing battle.

"Just because it's good today doesn't mean it won't crop up again tomorrow so we have to be continuously vigilant," said James. 

They hope to use what they've learned from this process to end all homelessness.

"If we take the model of what we've learned with ending veteran homelessness and apply it to other sectors of our community with the same courage and the same passion and the same power that we've done with veterans homelessness, we can end it across this country," said Mark Holland, mayor of the Unified Government of Kansas City, KS and Wyandotte County.

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