Ethan Pham, The Paisano

San Antonio recently achieved a milestone that city officials and UTSA students alike can celebrate: the Alamo city declared an effective end to veteran homelessness.

“I think it’s great that San Antonio is helping veterans, especially homeless veterans,” said UTSA alumnus and former Marine Marc Starcher.

According to the non- profit SAMMinistries, there are over 2,500 homeless individuals in San Antonio. Haven for Hope reports that 29 out of 10,000 (.0029 percent) veterans are homeless.

The process of getting all homeless veterans a permanent home began in the summer of 2014 when first lady Michelle Obama encouraged mayors nationwide to address the issue. San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor announced in January 2015 that the city would take up the task known as the “Mayors’ Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.”

The project strives to ensure all homeless veterans will have access to the support and social services necessary to find permanent housing, and community resources to stabilize any veteran on the brink of homelessness.

Together, these efforts aim to bring homelessness rates among veterans to a “functional zero,” a designation meaning the number of veterans who are homeless, whether sheltered or unsheltered, is no greater than the monthly housing placement rate for veterans.

In mid-May rates of veteran homelessness in the city reached the functional zero benchmark.

San Antonio is now in the company of other major cities like Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Houston in ending veteran homelessness. On a national level, veteran homelessness has decreased by 36 percent since 2009. A study released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development titled the “Annual Homeless Assessment Report” found that the total number of homeless veterans in 2009 was 74,050. The number of homeless veterans in 2016 is roughly 26,658.

In a speech given on the day City Council announced this accomplishment, Mayor Ivy Taylor credited this initiative with the fact that now 1300 homeless veterans in San Antonio have a permanent home.

Out of the 1, 300 veterans included in the program, 123 were “chronically homeless,” which is defined as a homeless individual with a disabling condition or a disabled individual who has had four episodes of homelessness.

“As we serve our veterans,” said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, “we’ll also continue to serve all of those who find themselves homeless –men, women, and children of every background –and we’ll work to end family, youth and chronic homelessness in the same intensity.

This progress was made with the help of local company USAA, which donated $2.1 million in the form of a grant.

The grant was used to lease homes and to hire individuals to assist veterans. Along with USAA, SAMMinistries, Haven for Hope, South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH), South Texas Veterans Healthcare System, Family Endeavors, American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program, San Antonio Housing Authority, and Housing Authority of Bexar County all assisted in outreach programs, housing placements, identifying veteran homelessness, and supportive services
to veterans.

“Homelessness really is a complex issue and the path that leads veterans to homelessness is rarely straight forward and requires a community commitment to provide a support network of services and resources to resolve it,” stated Taylor.

Despite the progress on this front, there are still veterans without a roof over their heads, and a myriad of other issues that veterans continue to face.

Starcher, a veteran himself, has some suggestions on where the city should turn next. Echoing Taylor’s assessment that the causes of veteran homelessness are complex, Starcher said there will be a struggle to solve this problem without addressing mental health. For him, focusing on mental health gets to the heart of what cities should do to assist veterans. Veteran homelessness is a symptom of a deeper, societal issue. It is not only veterans who often don’t get the help they need; it’s also the culture of the military attitude that “mental illness is a weakness and is going to cost them a job.” According to Starcher veterans sometimes maintain this mentality after retiring. Without any method to address this problem, other problems that spawn from it will continue.

Starcher points out the unique challenges of student life post-military compared to other students without any service experience.

“Student veterans who underwent combat stresses can feel anxiety in crowded rooms and noisy buildings,” he said.

To him, campus issues important to veterans, like classroom environments, represent another goal to improve this community.

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