America’s military veterans should not be homeless. On that, we all agree. But for too long, our country did not do enough to help.
That changed starting in 2013 when Tucson was chosen by the Obama administration as one of 25 cities to participate in a concentrated effort to end homelessness among veterans.
Now, as reported in Sunday’s Star by apprentice Ethan McSweeney, Tucson is closing in on the goal. Permanent housing has been found for about 1,200 veterans, with 442 to go by the end of the year.
Our community has shown what can be done when governments work together and in partnership with nonprofits. The federal government, the city and Pima County have all had major roles in the Tucson effort.
Karla Avalos, community organization and development director for Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, said nonprofit organizations and religious institutions are also helping.
Along the way, businesses and others have stepped up as well. Hotels planning to remodel have donated furniture. Churches in Green Valley contributed quilts.
Avalos said the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness now has the processes and communication in place to be able to sustain what she terms a homelessness rate of “functional zero.” Because, of course, we will never solve the problem. Veterans will continue to hit hard times and need housing. In the Tucson area, that’s about 46 a month.
Going forward, Avalos said, the county-operated master list with names of all the veterans being helped and who need assistance will be critical. That’s a central source for making sure veterans are served quickly and with appropriate housing and support.
A possible next step is the creation of a peer-to-peer mentoring program to ensure veterans continue to have what they need, whether it’s a ride to a medical appointment or just someone to talk with. Caseworkers from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs already provide support, Avalos said, but a peer-to-peer program could make the safety net stronger.
Though overdue, the community is proving by its actions that Tucson cares for veterans in their time of need.