Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton says the city has built a system to make veteran homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring. She made a special announcement this week at a celebration ceremony at Veterans Park. WUKY’s Dan Collins reports.
Polly Ruddick, Director of Lexington’s Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention says that in 2014, when then Mayor Jim Gray initiated the project, there were 203 homeless veterans, 21 of which living on the streets. Now, she says, there are about 78 veterans still in emergency shelters and transitional housing, but none on the streets.
Official Release from Mayor Gorton's Office:
Lexington is the first city in Kentucky to effectively end veteran homelessness, Mayor Linda Gorton said today.
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) verified and affirmed on March 21, 2019, that Lexington-Fayette Urban County has created a system and infrastructure to make veteran homelessness “rare, brief, and non-reoccurring.”
In 2014, then Mayor Jim Gray joined other mayors across the country in accepting President Barack Obama’s challenge to end veteran homelessness. Since that time, the City’s Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention, and the providers of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Continuum of Care in partnership with HUD and the VA, have worked tirelessly to create a coordinated system to identify, assess, connect and permanently house veterans experiencing homelessness.
“Today’s announcement means we are ready to help any homeless or at-risk veteran known to us,” Gorton said. “It means so much to know we are helping find homes for women and men who have given so much to our county. Congratulations to the social workers, outreach workers and homeless system leaders who work day and night to find and nurture relationships, and to remove barriers that previously kept veterans from permanent places to call home.”
This designation does not mean no veteran will ever become homeless in Lexington, the Mayor said. “But veterans who do experience homelessness, or are at-risk of homelessness, will get the support they need to quickly obtain a permanent home.”
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said, “We know one entity cannot solve Veteran homelessness, but rather it’s the collaborative work from partner providers, and federal, state and local leaders that make the goal a reality. Congratulations to everyone who made this possible for the women and men who bravely served our country. Effectively ending homelessness is not a small task, but the Lexington Continuum of Care proves it is possible with an all hands-on deck approach.”
Lexington is the only city or county in Kentucky that meets the strict data-driven criteria and benchmarks outlined by the federal government for creating an effective end to homelessness for veterans. Lexington has created a system and the capacity to quickly identify and house veterans who accept permanent housing, making veteran homelessness “rare, brief, and non-reoccurring.”
“Our veterans sacrificed for our country and for our freedoms, and for that, they have earned our lasting gratitude,” said Congressman Andy Barr. “I applaud Mayor Linda Gorton and other Lexington officials for their tremendous work to end homelessness in our city. As a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, I will continue to support the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s VA Supportive Housing (VASH) and other veterans assistance programs that work to get our veterans off the street. My office is committed to partnering with the Mayor and her staff to help in these efforts.”
“Congratulations to all the partners in Lexington who have been working so hard to achieve the goals of the Every Veteran Housed collaboration,” said Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Their success in effectively ending Veteran homelessness shows that it’s possible to achieve ambitious goals when everyone works together with grit and perseverance.”
Christopher Taylor, HUD Deputy Regional Administrator for Region IV, said, “We want to congratulate and thank the City of Lexington and their partners as they have worked extraordinarily hard to end local Veteran homelessness. It took extraordinary leadership on the part of all concerned to make this momentous achievement a reality on behalf of our Veterans and it speaks to what can be achieved as part of the Every Veteran Housed collaborative effort.”
Polly Ruddick, Director of the City’s Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention, the lead organization of the Continuum of Care, said the City earned the designation by working together. “This accomplishment would not have been possible, and cannot be sustained, without the collaboration of committed community partners,” Ruddick said. “This work is a road map for Lexington to continue its cross-collaboration to effectively end homelessness for everyone in our community.”
In 2014, 203 veterans were found to be experiencing homelessness in the annual homeless point-in-time count, compared to the 78 found in 2019. Twenty-one 21 were living unsheltered in 2014, compared to zero in 2019.
Keys to success include:
- Lexington Housing Authority set a veterans preference for all Housing Choice Vouchers, with an additional 75 VET vouchers.
- Permanent housing and services investment from HUD of $1,690,069 annually
- Housing and services investment from the VA of $3,590,135 annually
- Strong coordination between all partners and stakeholders
- Strengthened efforts to identify and match housing and services for veterans
- Improved data collection and quality
- Housing First model programs
This announcement comes after four years of unprecedented collaboration among key partners: Lexington VA Medical Center, former Director Emma Metcalfe and Homeless Programs Office Director Stephanie Gibson; Lexington Housing Authority, Director Austin Simms; Volunteers of America Mid-States, Program Director Anne Vandervort; Saint James Place, Executive Director Phil Gray; the Hope Center, Executive Director Cecil Dunn and Program Director David Shad; The Salvation Army, Major Thomas Hinzman; Community Action Council Action Council and Program Manager Marty Jones; Homeless Prevention and Intervention Board and members of the Every Veteran Housed Committee.