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GUEST COLUMN: City working to provide housing for veterans

By: John Suthers
December 24, 2015 Updated: December 24, 2015 at 4:00 am
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Colorado Springs is poised to be the first city in Colorado to end veteran homelessness. That was the message delivered by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May to describe collaborative efforts in Colorado Springs and El Paso County to eradicate veteran homelessness during 2015.

These efforts began in earnest in October 2014 when the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made available to our community $3 million over three years to identify and house veterans experiencing homelessness.

Later that month, the city endorsed the Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, an initiative to support the national goal of ending veteran homelessness in 2015 - a goal I wholeheartedly support. Since that time, stakeholders across the city and county have worked diligently to establish a framework to achieve this ambitious goal.

The success of this community effort is a model for Colorado. With the leadership of Rocky Mountain Human Services Homes for All Veterans program and the VA, we have connected with 350 veterans experiencing homelessness in our community and moved half of them into permanent housing. And 320 more veterans have been provided resources to prevent them from becoming homeless.

We have added cold- weather shelter beds, expanded outreach and made more housing assistance and case management available to keep our veterans safely housed. Many partners have carried our message and a heavy load to ensure we leave no veteran on the street; yet as I write today, we still have 180 veterans looking for a home.

We can end veteran homelessness in Colorado Springs, and I am asking for your help.

Ending veteran homelessness means achieving "functional zero," a condition in which no veteran is forced to live on our streets, and homelessness, when it does occur, is brief, rare and nonrecurring.

Our community has made great strides toward reaching functional zero, but the rate at which homeless veterans are housed continues to lag due primarily to the lack of available affordable housing. Often, when an apartment is available, our veterans with housing assistance cannot qualify because of poor credit and a challenged rental history. The city of Colorado Springs, Apartment Association of Southern Colorado, state of Colorado, our Continuum of Care, local landlords and property managers and area veteran service providers are working diligently in partnership to mitigate this housing deficit as best they can.

However, we are at risk of not reaching functional zero unless our community responds quickly by making housing available to veterans seeking a place to live.

Two veteran housing programs, the VA's Supportive Housing (VASH) program and Homes for All Veterans, provide the supportive services to successfully house a formerly homeless veteran. If you are a landlord or property manager who would consider helping our veterans, please contact Ralph Delosa, the Homes for All Veterans housing specialist, at 719-649-9529 to learn about the benefits of housing a veteran through one of these programs.

Our veterans need your support. Let's work together to ensure those who volunteered their lives to keep us sleeping safely at night are themselves able to sleep safely at night.

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John Suthers is mayor of Colorado Springs and former attorney general of Colorado, U.S. attorney for Colorado and district attorney for the 4th Judicial District.

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