Chattanooga, Tenn. (WDEF) – Less than three years after pledging to solve the issue of homelessness among military veterans, Chattanooga has reached it’s goal.
In a letter dated February 3, 2017, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) confirmed and congratulated Chattanooga for effectively ending homelessness among Veterans. The City and its network of partners have established the infrastructure and systems to ensure any veteran who becomes homeless in Chattanooga has the support to be housed in 30 days or less.
“Through strong leadership and proven practices, Chattanooga has joined the 37 communities and three entire states that have solved one of the most complex challenges our country faces,” said Matthew Doherty, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “Their success adds to the proof that we can end homelessness for all Americans and create a path for everyone to achieve their personal goals.”
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke broke the big news to over 100 community partners, service providers, Task Force members, and volunteers who have worked to house homeless veterans during a special event held Thursday evening at the Tennessee National Guard Armory saying, “In Chattanooga, we are rightfully proud of our ability to come together as a community and harness our resources and brainpower to tackle an immense problem. A few decades ago, people started calling this the ‘Chattanooga Way’. Usually it meant a big capital project, like our beautiful waterfront. But today, we see a different example of the power we can summon if we work together. Today, the Chattanooga Way means ending veteran homelessness in our city.”
Mayor Berke called upon individuals organizations to be recognized, including the local Veterans Affairs (VA), Community Kitchen, Homeless Coalition, SETHRA, Homeless Healthcare, Family Promise, Relevant Hope, Union Gospel Mission, Buffalo Valley, Chattanooga Housing Authority, Salvation Army, Volunteer Behavioral Healthcare Services including Joe Johnson, MASH, and CABHI. He also praised the work of the City’s Homeless Coordinator, Heather Hoffman, and her team.
“Veterans who have served our country should not sleep be forced to sleep in parking garages, shelters, cars, or on street corners — unfortunately, that is a reality in too many cities across the country. But over the last two years, Chattanoogans have banded together to say ‘Not in our city’,” said Mayor Berke. “These saints got to work. They scoped out apartments, drove veterans to appointments, prodded landlords into making space available, and so much more. And at the end of the day, they figured out a solution.”
During his first State of the City address on April 21, 2014, Mayor Berke pledged to end veterans’ homelessness in Chattanooga. The following day he signed an Executive Order establishing a Veterans Task Force to find solutions. The Task Force, co-chaired by Chattanooga City Councilman Chip Henderson and Donna Maddox, convened their first meeting on June 6, 2014.
Since that time, the City of Chattanooga and a number of community partners have worked together with the goal of decreasing the number of days a veteran is homeless. Critical to meeting this goal was strong and immediate alliances with key partners such as the VA, MASH program (local SSVF provider), CHA (Chattanooga Housing Authority), and the Homeless Coalition (CoC lead agency).
The City’s Homeless Coordinator, Heather Hoffman, and the coalition of partners worked together to create a robust strategy and specific project plan. Their project plan united local agencies, prioritized tasks, created a weekly conferencing group, and ensured accountability among agencies and partners. By communicating their plan and involving the public and press through local events, conference calls, announcements for landlords, and opportunities to donate, the coalition helped generate excitement, accountability, and transparency around their initiative and goals.
Critical to the effort was reduced waiting times for veterans seeking assistance, especially through housing programs. Both the Chattanooga Housing Authority and Southeast Tennessee Human Resources Agency (SETHRA) worked hard to streamline their processes which lead to less time on waiting lists. In addition, local agencies that had not traditionally provided direct services to veterans became greatly engaged and invested in the initiative, offering key services to help create a faster housing ‘pipeline’ for veterans. In addition, two local agencies — the AIM Center and Homeless Healthcare — dedicated significant staff time and resources for the weekly case conferencing and for breakout committees that helped in find creative solutions to barriers for housing veterans, such as lack of transportation or ways to interest local landlords.
After years of hard work, the coalition submitted to USICH that Chattanooga was able demonstrate an effective end to veteran homelessness using USICH criteria and benchmarks. The agency confirmed this information with an official letter to Mayor Andy Berke, dated February 3, 2017.