The first multi-county plan to effectively end veteran homelessness in Pennsylvania was touted as a success by officials on Friday.
Gov. Tom Wolf said the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs confirmed that the Western Pennsylvania Continuum of Care (Western PA CoC) has effectively ended homelessness for veterans in Crawford County and 19 other counties in western Pennsylvania.
“With this announcement, the U.S. government has verified and affirmed that the Western PA CoC, through its efforts, will continue to ensure veteran homelessness is a rare, brief, and one-time occurrence,” Wolf said. “It has been my goal since I took office to reduce veteran homelessness and we have made progress. It is my hope that the example set by the Western PA CoC becomes a model and inspiration for the rest of the state so we can end veteran homelessness commonwealth-wide.”
The Western PA CoC governing board worked collaboratively with other groups to identify homeless veterans and provide them with immediate access to housing by using a Housing First model, creating a sustainable infrastructure for housing, and increasing and streamlining the availability of permanent housing and support services, officials said.
Crawford County Commissioner John Amato said veteran homelessness is a concern in the county.
“The problem is out there,” he said.
A veteran of both the U.S. Army and in the U.S. Air Force Reserve with a combined 28 years of active and reserve service, Amato welcomed the announcement that the problem had been effectively ended, but he also expressed hope that continued effort would be expended to maintain the situation.
“I hope it holds true,” he said. “I’ve seen so many programs that are supposed to do what politicians want them to do, but because of their cumbersome nature, it makes it so hard for a guy who has nothing to navigate.”
Crawford County Veterans Services Officer Rich Krankota commended the agencies working to end homelessness among veterans but agreed with Amato that the required bureaucratic process can be “confusing.”
A big part of the solution in Crawford County, he added, is assistance from veterans-oriented nonprofits like Harm Jan Huidekoper Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2006 and Veterans of the Vietnam War Inc. Jack Greer Memorial Post 52.
There were 982 homeless veterans in the state in 2018, according to Krankota. The number in Crawford County has been minimal in recent years, he said, but he also hoped news of homelessness among vets in the area being “effectively ended” wouldn’t mislead people into thinking the problem had been completely solved.
Dennis Davin, secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, said the state is committed to continuing its efforts to help veterans avoid homelessness.
“It is critical that everyone has access to the resources and services they need to not simply survive, but thrive,” Davin said. “We commend the Western PA CoC on its commitment to our veterans, for reaching this incredible milestone, and for ensuring that no veteran is homeless.”
Soon after taking office, Wolf challenged all commonwealth agencies and communities to reduce veteran homelessness by 40 percent in the last 100 days of 2015. That challenge was the first foray into work with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness’ Mayor’s Challenge to End Homelessness, the program that continues today and has helped Pennsylvania find permanent housing for thousands of homeless veterans.
“That first challenge resulted in reducing the state’s veteran homeless population by more than 500 and since then we’ve made good, steady progress,” Wolf said. “The forward-thinking efforts of the Western PA CoC have changed the way we address veteran homelessness, building the infrastructure needed to enact meaningful change, and investing in the services that literally save lives. Veterans are a population at risk for homelessness, and as they have protected us, it is incumbent upon us to protect them in turn.”