The St. Louis Area Regional Commission on Homelessness found homes for hundreds of veterans this year. Now, the local homeless agencies that comprise the commission are using what they’ve learned to improve how they serve the region.
The commission, a partnership between St. Louis-area counties in Missouri and Illinois, aimed to house every homeless veteran in the region this year. By Nov. 11, it helped find homes for 93% of the 217 vets it found homeless in February.
Though the group fell short of its goal, it plans to continue housing veterans in the region, said Yusef Scoggin, commission member and St. Louis County director of family and community services.
“This effort is not over. Just because we haven’t met 100% of our goal this time doesn’t mean we’re going to give up on it,” he said.
One reason the initiative wasn’t able to house every veteran was because it continued to locate more homeless veterans throughout the year, according to St. Louis Veterans Affairs’ director of homeless services Shaleen Robertson.
Between February and November, nearly 300 more veterans became homeless or got in touch with homeless services in the region. The commission secured housing for about one-third of those.
Robertson said some reached out after hearing about the program, and others seemed to have been previously overlooked by the commission.
What the commission did
The commission built a partnership among multiple counties’ Continuums of Care, the local planning bodies that coordinate services for the homeless. Historically, the continuums haven’t actively worked together. That means that homeless people moving from county to county could slip out of the system.
This past year, the commission sought to pool resources from St. Louis city and county, as well as St. Charles, Lincoln, Warren, Madison and St. Clair counties.
One of the biggest victories was the creation of a document of veterans that is now available to all the regional agencies, said commission data committee chair Tim Huffman. The list names specific veterans and tracks the care they are receiving.
Huffman said the list might sound like a small thing, but it has allowed agencies to make sure the people they’re caring for don’t get lost between agencies.
“Population-level statistics aren’t actually helpful for delivering real care, because you need to talk to the person, you need to know their name,” he said. “Because people show up across different organizations, being able to track them by name and by the people who are delivering care to them is critically important.”
The commission also reinstated the region’s participation in an online service that helps people locate affordable housing. And the commission got the state’s Department of Mental Health to reserve 50 vouchers to provide veterans with both housing and case management services, according to Robertson.
The bi-state partnership has also allowed the commission to better understand the limitations of the homeless services system, said Scoggin, who works with those systems in St. Louis County. He said that eventually, the commission wants to apply its work to the region's whole homeless population, not just veterans.
One of the most obvious needs was case management — people who build relationships with veterans and help them access resources to stay in housing. Huffman said that it is often easier for the commission to acquire housing than it is to find funding for case managers.
“It is generally not a recipe for success to just shove someone into housing and not have social support," Huffman said. “By social support, I mean a person who knows them, who’s checking in on them and who is aware of broader services.”
The St. Louis VA acquired a $142,000 grant to fund case management at St. Patrick Center, but Robertson said the grant is too small to cover all the region's needs.
Robertson said the commission also began to strengthen its ties to behavioral health providers, who offer services that help veterans address addiction and other health problems that can make it hard to stay in housing.
Robertson said that even though the commission didn’t meet its “aggressive, ambitious goal” to house all the homeless veterans in the region, she’s excited about the work they’ve done.
“We’ve made so much progress, and we are headed in the right direction,” she said.
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