/ Modified apr 27, 2015 7:53 a.m.

METRO WEEK: Will Tucson End Homelessness?

All homeless veterans may not have housing by end of year, which is city government's goal.

Tucson is doing “fair” at coordinating organizations that provide services to people who are homeless, but the city may not reach its goal of ending veterans’ homelessness by the end of the year, those who work on the goals say.

The city was one of 25 in the country selected in 2013 to try to end veterans’ homelessness by the end of 2015, and it has set a goal of ending chronic homelessness city-wide by January 2017. The selection was prompted by the city’s high frequency of homelessness.

One in every 131 people in Tucson will be homeless in the span of one year, said Tom Litwicki, the CEO of Old Pueblo Services, and chairman of the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness.

Every year the collaboration does a point-in-time count of all the homeless people it can identify. That means the count reflects simply who is identifiable that day, which is lower than the actual number of people living without permanent housing, Litwicki said.

His definition of ending homelessness: “to have the number of individuals who are entering into homelessness in any month be the same number as the placements into housing every month,” he said. “Which essentially means that no one should be in emergency shelter in a homeless condition for more than 30 days.”

The goal to end veterans’ homelessness is reachable, but it will take work, said Jodi Frederick, the clinical director of homeless outreach at the Southern Arizona VA. The stated goal as part of the 25 Cities initiative was the end of this year.

“I think it will take longer than that, and I think they’re looking at maybe making it 2016, because it’s a huge accomplishment or venture to try. But I think as long as we keep trying and we keep housing people then we’re being successful.”

To meet the goal of ending veterans’ homelessness by the end of the year, the community will need to house 86 veterans a month, Litwicki said.

The housing is paid for with federal vouchers from the Housing and Urban Development Department, which are indefinitely available as long as a veteran needs them, Frederick said.

Ending chronic homelessness has more time, the goal is January 2017, and will require housing 22 people a month, Litwick said.

“What we’re really trying to grapple with is the long-term chronic homelessness that’s been out there for a number of years. The average person who’s been chronically homeless has been homeless for seven to eight years,” he said. That means getting them housing as rapidly as possible is the best strategy, he said.

“And then once we accomplish that, to go back and say ‘ok now how do we prevent people from getting into long-term homelessness?’” Litwicki said.

Answering that question will take more collaboration between the numerous local organizations and non-profits that offer services for homeless people, he said.

“We’re in the process of putting together a coordinated entry system in which all agencies would use the same screening tool,” which Litwicki called a validated vulnerability index.

Essentially, it gets the most vulnerable people into housing first, no matter which agency they go to seeking help.

That shifts the responsibility from one agency providing services, he said, to the whole community of service providers.

Housing first is a new model for ending homelessness, Frederick said. Nationwide policies for stopping the cycle of homelessness used to require solving other health and behavioral issues first, then providing housing, she said.

“Housing first is just the opposite," Frederick said. "Let’s get you housed and then you can work on whatever issues you have. Which makes sense because if you’re living on the street, there’s no way you can deal with other issues. So you take care of the basic needs first."

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