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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Rosetta Stone of Portland helps her best friend, Gary Jennings of Mill City, pack a box of food after last weeks Portland Veterans Stand Down event. Stone worked on a United Service Organizations Inc. project on a U.S. naval base; Jennings is a Navy Vietnam War veteran.Many residents cheered when local leaders announced their 100-day push to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year.


Others scoffed.

“Ending” veteran homelessness?

Didn’t the city learn better when their 10-year Plan to End Homelessness didn’t quite pan out?

Marc Jolin, manager of the Multnomah County-led A Home for Every Veteran initiative, says he didn’t make it up himself.

It’s an audacious federal goal set by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which lists criteria for communities aiming to achieve this reality.

The agency already has certified a half-dozen cities for demonstrating that they’ve met the criteria, which includes identifying all veterans who are unsheltered, and having the systems in place — a plan, timeline and resources — to provide permanent housing for those who become homeless.

“We all face the same dynamics,” Jolin says. “No one thinks there isn’t a homeless veteran left. The system has been built to engage all the veterans who’ve become homeless.”

The goal, city and county leaders announced last week, is to get to a “functional zero” by the end of this year, which is 100 days away.

They acknowledge there still will be veterans who become homeless, but need to ensure it’s brief, rare and nonrecurring.

At the end of January, there were 422 veterans sleeping outside or in an emergency or transitional shelter, Jolin says. That number was extrapolated to about 690 veterans per year who experience homelessness over the course of 12 months.

“That becomes the target,” Jolin says. “We need to house 60 veterans per month to get to that goal.”

So far, the initiative — working with affordable housing agencies and providing incentives and support systems to landlords — has placed 430 vets into housing or emergency shelters, Jolin says.

There are still 260 to go.

Through the A Home for Every Veteran initiative, “We’ve been able to manage finding 60 units per month,” Jolin says. “That will continue to be our target.”

Meeting the goal by the end of the year, he says, “is doable; we should be able to get there.”

Partners in the local effort have included Home Forward, Income Property Management, BedMart, Princeton Property Management, Cascade Management and Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives.

In the next 100 days, advocates will continue to do what they’ve been doing, but step up their outreach to the public, landlords and veterans.

Last Friday, advocates started a weeklong veterans’ registry effort, visiting all of the places they think homeless veterans may be, collecting basic information and adding them to the housing list.

If they’re new to the list, they’ll start working with them. “It’s what we have been doing,” Jolin says, “but doing more of it, with a greater sense of urgency.”

Jolin says the lessons learned from the veteran housing effort will be applied to other homeless populations, which have their own complexities, but share some root causes and barriers.

The biggest challenge for this population has been access to units. There simply aren’t enough vacancies.

“While we have rent assistance and other tools to help get vets back into housing — what we don’t have are the apartments,” County Chair Deborah Kafoury said at a news conference last Tuesday.

“Over the last year demand for rental housing has skyrocketed in the Portland region. Only 2.4 percent of rental units are vacant. And this shortange of units is driving up costs. Rents have jumped 16 percent countywide. And in neighborhoods like Eliot, Buckman and Mount Tabor, rents have increased more than 28 percent.”

Those forces are “creating a state of emergency for renters in our community,” Kafoury added. “It also makes it much more difficult for us to help vets get into stable housing.”

The request from local elected leaders has been, “If you have a vacant unit please consider a veteran — a veteran who comes with unprecedented resources behind him or her to help them be good tenants.”

When a vacancy does occur, there’s a long list of people waiting for their chance to rent the apartment.

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