Lawmaker: Texas should curb veteran homelessness using Abilene model

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas is one step closer to housing its population of veterans experiencing homelessness.

The City of Abilene was recently recognized by the federal government as having effectively ended veteran homelessness. The number of homeless veterans in the city is less than the average number of veterans connected with permanent housing each month.

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, Abilene meets the federal criteria, meaning the city can quickly identify the population, intervene to prevent people from losing housing, provide access to short-term shelter and other services, and connect people experiencing homelessness to unique services and stable long-term housing.

Abilene’s key to success seems to be its teamwork and data-tracking of the population. Housing, veteran groups and case workers combined efforts to create a system to find homes.

“I am so proud to stand here on this day with the achievement that not just the mayor or individuals — but team Abilene — has accomplished today, and that’s something all of us can be proud of,” Abilene’s mayor Anthony Williams said when the city reached a “functional zero” population.

Their work benefits people like Christopher Walker, a marine veteran who experienced homelessness for five years. He now has a home and access to treatment.

“My depression, my anxiety, my PTSD that I suffer from it’s gone way down. I was un-medicated and untreated at the time and just having a home, I mean, that’s just amazing to me,” Walker said.

“I think I’m on the right path, It’s definitely a path I want to stay on,”

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham’s sprawling district covers the Abilene area.

“I think we all want to support our veterans,” she said Monday. “So the fact that they have been able to make such great strides, maybe Austin should look that way and come up with some policies that actually do things to help the city.”

She said more Texas cities should look to Abilene’s success as they tackle veteran homelessness in their neighborhoods.

“You can’t feed everyone and take care of everyone for every day of their life, but you can provide opportunities for education through re-training, helping them get jobs, all of those types of things,” she explained.

“How do we give these people a helping hand and get them up instead of a handout,” she added.

The Texas Veterans Commission provides grants for housing and other general help to those who have served in the Lone Star State through non-profits and local government agencies.

“The Housing for Texas Heroes grant program has awarded $26.6 million to serve a total of more than 10,800 Texas veterans since 2012,” Texas Veterans Commission Executive Director Thomas Palladino said in a statement. “This provides funding for organizations like Habitat for Humanity which build homes for veterans and to organizations which provide transitional housing and shelter.”

“Additionally, General Assistance grants include financial support for payment of rent and utilities, as well as a variety of other things such as food, job skills training and counseling,” Palladino said. “Our grants are provided to nonprofit and government agencies around the state which serve veterans.”

Starting this month, the commission will dole out nearly $16 million over the next two years.

Gov. Greg Abbott applauded Abilene’s efforts earlier this month.

“Other cities should follow your example,” he said in a tweet.

The city’s next step is working to find permanent homes for people who are chronically homeless, meaning they experience homelessness for a year, or 12 months over a three year time frame.

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