COURTESY MULTNOMAH COUNTY  - County Chair Deborah Kafoury (left) stands with Debi Christensen, who accepted an award on Tuesday on behalf of her organization's work to help end veteran homelessness. Christensen is a senior portfolio manager at Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives, an affordable housing nonprofit Kafoury's late mother, Gretchen, helped found. Local business, nonprofit and elected leaders on Tuesday started their 100-day push to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year.

That is, to get to a "functional zero," which Multnomah County leaders say acknowledges that there will still be veterans experiencing homelessness after 2015, but they have systems in place to ensure it's brief, rare and non- reoccurring.

County Chair Deborah Kafoury spoke to the progress of the "A Home for Every Veteran," which has been a big focus this year for the city, county and other partners.

So far the initiative has connected 430 veterans to permanent housing, but there are still 290 to go.

"While we have rent assistance and other tools to help get vets back into housing — what we don't have are the apartments," Kafoury said at a Tuesday news conference at the Erickson Fritz Apartments in Old Town.

"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 countrywide. 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."

A Home for Every Veteran partners have been working with landlords who want to provide homes for veterans, but many say they don't have vacancies.

The ask 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.

County leaders are also asking that if anyone knows a landlord with an available partner, to visit and flag that resource.

Other efforts

Ending veteran homelessness — or bringing it to a "functional zero" — isn't a new idea.

The White House started a national effort in 2009; their target date was also the end of 2015, which is now 100 days away.

Other cities have also tackled it successfully, including New Orleans, Houston, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

Partners in Multnomah County's effort have included Home Forward, Income Property Management, BedMart, Princeton Property Management, Cascade Management and Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives.

The event precedes an event on Friday called Veteran Stand Down, a venue for veterans to connect to critical services such as housing, employment, medical, haircuts, clothing and more.

That event is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

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