Richmond Times-Dispatch – 05/20/21

A coalition of nonprofits and service providers has housed virtually all veterans experiencing homelessness in a swath of the state that includes Petersburg, Hopewell, and Colonial Heights, officials announced Thursday.

Local and state officials heralded the Crater Area Coalition on Homelessness’ achievement as major, especially in a year that saw housing insecurity spike and the number of people in crisis across the state climb during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 11 other communities across the country have reached the milestone, known as “functional zero.”

“Reaching and sustaining this milestone is part of building a future where homelessness is rare overall and brief when it occurs,” said Kimberly Tucker, senior director of housing and homeless services for St. Joseph’s Villa, the lead agency in the coalition that covers the Tri-Cities, Emporia and Prince George, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Surrey and Sussex counties.

“Homelessness is a solvable problem. It can be done, and this community has proven it.”

Working together on the effort was Veterans Affairs, St. Joseph’s Villa, Commonwealth Catholic Charities, Virginia Supportive Housing, Serenity, Push Faith Shelter, The James House, and the District 19 Community Services Board.

Officials stressed the importance of a data-driven, individualized approach to meeting the needs of the clients they are working with. Improved collaboration among partner organizations also contributed to meeting the “functional zero” standard set by Community Solutions, a New York-based nonprofit that works with 80 cities and counties around the country to combat homelessness. Communities that join its “Build for Zero” initiative receive coaching and support in pursuit of their goal to end homelessness for a targeted population.

The distinction does not mean no veterans are currently homeless or may eventually become homeless in the area. Rather, it means the Crater Area Coalition on Homelessness is currently serving fewer veterans in crisis than it has the capacity to house in 30 days or less. For the Crater Area, that threshold is three.

At the beginning of 2020, the coalition counted 80 people experiencing homelessness in the area, according to a federally mandated survey it conducted. That figure included 16 veterans. By February of this year, the number dipped below the “functional zero” threshold by successfully finding permanent housing for the veterans it serves. Its full point-in-time count numbers have not yet been released.

CACH became the third community in the state to reach the mark. Arlington did it in 2015. Earlier this year, Lynchburg and four surrounding counties that make up the Central Virginia Continuum of Care did, too.

Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, said the timing of the achievement made it all the more impressive.

“When I think about the idea of any veteran having to be collectively what is rock bottom, to be homeless, it pains me. My heart hurts,” she said. “And you all have used that hurt and that pain that I know you all feel when you think about it to translate it directly into action and advocacy.”

Sustaining “functional zero” for veteran homelessness is the new goal, officials said. So, too, is applying their approach to chip away at youth, young adult, and family homelessness, said Leanne Lytle, a member of the Crater Area Coalition on Homelessness board of directors.

Said Lytle, “The work is not done.”