By Erin Kolb
VETERANS MEMORIAL HALL – In the face of an ongoing housing battle in the city council, Rockford can claim a major victory in the war to end homelessness.
Mayor Larry Morrissey, along with members of the Rockford Veterans Administration, announced Tuesday their success in effectively beating veteran homelessness in the city.
Rockford was recognized Tuesday as the first community in the initiative, known as Zero: 2016, to reach the goal of zero homeless veterans by the start of 2016.
“Ensuring every person has a safe, stable place to call home takes teamwork and dedication at every level,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro. “Rockford stepped up to this challenge and today has every reason to celebrate its incredible achievement in effectively ending Veteran homelessness.”
The efforts started last January as Morrissey signed on to a pact created by the Obama administration, called the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.
The pact challenged mayors, governors, and other community leaders to work to provide homes for veterans who have been left without shelter.
“Today, too many Americans who have answered the call of duty face problems readjusting,” said Antonio Riley, Regional Administrator for HUD.
Riley said that since Zero: 2016 kicked off last January, 101,000 veterans have been housed nationwide. Rockford has housed 73 veterans to date, effectively ending veteran homeless in the city.
“Every veteran has a name, and every veteran has a story,” said Morrissey.
Morrissey said that making the problem personal helped to solve the problem.
“Today’s accomplishment doesn’t mean there will never be another homeless veteran, but that we’ll be able to house them within 30 days,” Riley said.
In order to hold onto its functional zero rating, Rockford must show no more than eight vets awaiting housing at any time, and any new vets must be housed within those 30 days.
To help achieve these goals, the city’s human services department maintains master list of the names of at-risk vets in the area. That list is used to coordinate with case managers and area agencies to ensure the Zero: 2016 guidelines are met.
According to Riley, research shows an 11 percent decline in homelessness since 2010, with a 26 percent drop in people living on the streets, a 22 percent drop in chronic homelessness, and a 19 percent drop in family homelessness.
Director of Zero: 2016, Beth Sandor, said this proves something important about how communities can play their part in helping veterans ease back into civilian life.
“The system has the capacity to house veterans and provide them with permanent housing,” Sandor said. “Solving homelessness is about changing the story about our community. If you are a veteran in this community, you will not be homeless.”
Air Force veteran Omario White, who served in Afghanistan, experienced a hard time finding a job and finding a place to live. He returned to Rockford in March and was homeless for about two weeks. He was helped to find a place to live by the Zero: 2016 initiative.
“It feels fantastic, I’ve received all kinds of help since I’ve been here,” he said.
White is looking forward to celebrating his first Christmas in his new house with his 6-year-old son.
“I have to succeed,” said White. “There is no failure.”