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Homes for All Veterans aims to help homeless vets reach 'functional zero'

July 26, 2015 Updated: July 26, 2015 at 8:07 pm
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Andy Phelps, the volunteer coordinator for Rocky Mountain Human Services, gives a homeless man a pair of socks while making the rounds in downtown Colorado Springs with volunteers Cole Allgeier, right, and Kyle Cox Tuesday, March 24, 2105. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The push to end veteran homelessness by Dec. 31 now has an end goal.

Using an intensely data-driven approach unlike anything previously seen in the Pikes Peak region, a coalition of community members, local government officials and homeless service providers has created its own definition for what it means to end homelessness among military veterans. And using a color-coded scheme similar to traffic lights, it's keeping a monthly record of its progress.

In short: Momentum is building, but they have more work to do.

Homes for All Veterans, for example, housed 25 individuals or families in April and May, and another 19 in June.

But the coalition wants to house another 150 individuals or families from August through the end of October using a network of volunteers focused on outreach.

The effort is predicated on the concept that Colorado Springs and El Paso County may never have zero homeless veterans, because transients might move into the region, and some people also may resist help getting housed.

Rather, the goal is for the community to have the resources and processes in place to ensure no veterans are forced to live on the streets, and that homelessness is brief, rare and non-recurring. Reaching that point is called "functional zero," and specific benchmarks were established to meet those objectives.

"It's a capabilities-driven definition, not a numerically-driven definition," said Craig Schlattmann, program manager for Homes for All Veterans.

The coalition, which meets once a month and is led by Homes for All Veterans staff members, created the county-specific definition in the spring. Ever since, it's been tracking its progress - all with the goal of effectively ending veteran homelessness and reaching "functional zero" by the end of the year. The deadline is part of the national Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness campaign.

So far, the coalition has made progress in some areas, and found roadblocks in others.

Within three days of entering a shelter, for example, every veteran is screened and assigned a caseworker, Schlattmann said.

The recent capability came after Homes for All Veterans staff members began meeting twice a week with other organizations to better coordinate plans to house each homeless veteran.

But even finding shelter space or housing remains a tall task.

Amid a severe shortage in shelter space, the program has yet to make much progress meeting its goal of finding a shelter bed or housing for a veteran within a day of meeting him or her.

"We don't have enough shelter space, and we're going to stay red on this criteria until we get more shelter space," said Schlattmann, referring to his green-yellow-red system for gaging progress.

The approach garnered praise Friday by the Department of Veteran Affairs' regional network homeless coordinator, who applauded the coalition's disciplined and organized approach..

"In all the years, I've not seen this level of organization and cooperation, said Rich DeBlasio, who oversees efforts in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana.

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