Finding permanent housing for every St. Louis-area homeless veteran by November sounds like a steep task.
But it’s what five Missouri and Illinois counties have promised to do.
St. Louis, St. Charles, St. Clair and Madison counties joined an initiative spurred by St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s “challenge to end veteran homelessness.” The challenge is part of a national movement to bring the number of homeless veterans to zero. The St. Louis Area Regional Commission on Homelessness will organize the local initiative.
Human-services officials know that the change won’t prevent future homelessness. But the St. Louis-area initiative aims to find stable housing for more than 300 veterans and their families.
“We understand the complexity of the economic and social circumstances that lead to housing instability, and we understand that those will never cease to exist,” said Shaleen Robertson, director of Homeless Services for the St. Louis Veterans Affairs.
The coalition wants the St. Louis region to develop enough emergency housing, funding and programs to keep veterans from becoming homeless in the first place — and to immediately provide shelter for those who do become homeless.
To do this, the five counties have pledged to share data and resources.
“There are just so many services and agencies to help veterans. From the little church on your corner to a convenience store that maybe is owned by a veteran that does a little side donations. Our goal is to figure out all those resources and bring them together,” said Robertson.
The cross-governmental partnership will help solve a major barrier for homeless services: When people move between counties, homeless-outreach groups lose track of them. Finding people again requires lots of time and resources, said Robertson.
As part of the initiative, the counties will help the VA maintain a database that keeps records on homeless veterans in the region.
Department of Human Services for St. Louis County director Yusef Scoggin said the multi-county database will better track people as they move between counties and services — and improve homeless services overall.
For instance, he said that many homeless people in Illinois “left some other parts of St. Louis a couple years ago. So, the question is, 'Did we really deal with the issues that were of concern?' Or did those issues just shift?”
The database would help identify whether someone has found housing or just moved to a different part of the region. Scoggin said the plans to help veterans could also improve the region’s process for helping other homeless individuals.
Officials could not provide the exact budget for the program because the veterans’ needs had not yet been evaluated, but, Scoggin said, the project is expected to cost “a few million dollars.” Some veterans will receive short-term help; others will require support for longer durations. The initiative will cooperate with landlords to help locate housing.
Officials from other counties, including Warren, Franklin, Lincoln and Jefferson, have also pledged to join the effort. But they won't be directly involved in the St. Louis coalition, according to Scoggin.
The coalition will work with Community Solutions, a company that uses a data-based approach to help communities decrease homelessness. The program has rehomed more than 60,000 veterans nationwide since 2015, according to St. Louis County.
Funding will come from local sources as well as the VA and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Scoggin.
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