Coalition_for_the_Homeless_logo_-_two_color_version_1The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Wednesday that Louisville’s population of homeless veterans has reached “functional zero,” meaning those still remaining are less than the average number of incoming veterans served each month.

A large coalition of local organizations and government agencies announced the Rx: Housing Veterans project in January — part of the national Zero: 2016 campaign — with a goal of finding housing for all of the 360 homeless veterans identified in Louisville. Natalie Harris, executive director for Louisville’s Coalition for the Homeless, tells Insider Louisville that far more homeless veterans were actually identified over the course of 2015 — 822 in total — with all but 21 of those placed in permanent housing or a transitional housing program with a plan for a permanent home.

“We were really scared when we saw how many (homeless veterans) were added, but we have a fabulous team and we didn’t want to leave anyone behind,” says Harris. “We still have 21 recent homeless veterans that we are looking for to assess this month, and that will be an ongoing process to make sure we continue to house veterans quickly and safely in our community.”

Harris says she was pleasantly surprised with their success in obtaining housing vouchers for homeless veterans and the coordination between the many different groups involved in the project, but the biggest difficulty was the tight market for affordable housing.

“We still have 50 people with a voucher in hand and they are looking for an apartment, and a case manager is taking them place to place trying to find an apartment to use that voucher,” says Harris. “We had no idea that would be so hard. That’s going to continue, as there is still a real need in our community for one-bedroom apartments. And I know we’re building high-end one-bedroom apartments in our community, but we need them at all levels in our community.”

Harris credits Louisville’s success in housing so many homeless veterans with the coordination of the many groups involved, including the Veterans Affairs outreach team, the Common Assessment team at Family Health Centers, the Louisville Metro Housing Authority, HUD, and Volunteers of America. Whereas previously veterans fell through the cracks due to lack of information sharing between agencies and organizations, Harris says that Jamie Watts — the local VA coordinator of the project — made sure this practice ended.

“In the past, the VA was not willing to share names with us, so we couldn’t track specific clients,” says Harris. “She went and got permission from every single veteran that they’re working with to share information so she could provide them better service and refer them back to other groups.”

Harris says the coalition of groups and agencies will continue to tackle this issue — as roughly 25 new homeless veterans are identified each month — but they still need resources to help the overall homeless population in Louisville, estimated to be near 7,000.

“Our plan for this coming year is to end chronic homelessness in Louisville, so we want to make sure that we don’t use up all of the resources so we can still meet that goal,” says Harris. “That would mean that no one in Louisville had been on the streets longer than a year.”

Though Harris says Louisville still has much work to do to combat homelessness, she says the city has made great strides to decrease this population over the last five years — as opposed to cities like Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland, where homelessness has risen.

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]