Ending veteran homelessness

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Administrator Beth Van Duyne addresses the crowd at Norman city hall. HUD was one of three agencies to confirm Norman and Cleveland County have sufficient resources to provide housing to every homeless veteran in the county.

It’s a milestone every community in Oklahoma wants to reach.

The City of Norman and Cleveland County have effectively ended veteran homelessness, a mark confirmed by the several federal departments and celebrated at city hall Tuesday by city staff, local agencies and non-profits and government officials.

“It is because of our relentless community-wide effort, because of the people in this room, that we have reached such a significant goal,” Norman Mayor Lynne Miller said.

By reaching “functional zero,” Norman and Cleveland County have the system and resources in place to provide housing for every homeless veteran, becoming the seventh community in the nation to reach federal standards and benchmarks from Built for Zero, a national effort to end chronic and veteran homelessness.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness confirmed that Norman and Cleveland County have reached functional zero. Norman is the first community in Oklahoma to achieve this goal, HUD regional administrator Beth Van Duyne said.

“We look at the faces of the people we’re helping; these are people who have very selflessly shared of their personal lives, their family lives, to defend their country,” she said. “It does not seem like they could come home from that service and not have that support they so valiantly fought for for all of us.”

Norman began working on this goal back in 2015, according to Miller, and 45 homeless veterans have been placed in permanent housing since then. Daily work by more than 30 area nonprofits, as well as assistance from Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) and the VA, made reaching functional zero possible.

“That set off a cooperative effort,” Miller said. “The effort was to make sure that every man and woman who has served our country has a place to live and something to eat. That need is so basic and fundamental, but, unfortunately, there are many communities struggling to meet it.”

By no means is the mission complete, according to City of Norman homeless coordinator Michelle Evans. Every Friday, dozens of representatives from local nonprofits and government agencies meet to discuss Norman’s homeless population by name and determine how to provide those individuals with resources and services.

That meeting, let by Evans and featuring nonprofits like Thunderbird Clubhouse, the Salvation Army of Cleveland County, Food & Shelter, and Variety Care, as well as representatives from the Norman Police Department, is key to meeting the next milestone: ending chronic homelessness in Norman, with a specific focus on youth and families.

Chronic homelessness is defined as being homeless for 12 consecutive months, or have four episodes of homelessness in three years, Evans said.

“Funding streams are the biggest challenge,” she said. “With veterans, it’s easier to get behind that effort. [With chronic homelessness], we’re telling individual stories, and it gets very complicated.”

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Caleb Slinkard was hired as the editor of the Norman Transcript in August of 2015. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University-Commerce and previously was in charge of several newspapers in northeast Texas.