Vicky M. Williams is a peer support counselor at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She recently began coursework to earn her Masters of Social Work. Williams, 44, is an Iraq War veteran where she served as a nurse. She is a forceful advocate for women veterans and their children. And she used to be homeless.

“To go from nothing to something, there are no words to describe it,” said Williams at the Veterans NOW event held on February 27.

Williams is one of hundreds of formerly homeless veterans that have found homes in the District by taking advantage of the multi-agency Veterans NOW initiative. The group aims to end veteran homelessness in the District by 2015, as part of the nation-wide commitment from stakeholders in federal and local governments as well as non-profit agencies.

In the first 100 day-campaign last year, DCHA and its partners in Veterans NOW, were able to house 207 veterans, 96 of which were considered chronically homeless, said David Tweedie of The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.

Veterans NOW is entering the last month of its second 100-day campaign to end veteran homelessness. During these 100 days, the group set a goal to work together to find housing for 190 veterans, including 56 chronically homeless individuals. As of February 24, 161 people were in homes.

“For many years there was a conversation that wasn’t happening between those of us who were trying to help the homeless and those of us trying to find housing,” said DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman. “How fortunate that it is happening now,” said Todman, who added DCHA has assisted more than 600 veterans, and their families, find homes.

In order to get that done, DCHA reached out to its existing landlord network to ask for available units for veterans that could be occupied instantaneously. The authority coordinated with its partners to have those units inspected and approved for immediate move-in. With the help of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other organizations, qualified veterans were identified and signed leases through a more streamlined process.

The uniform assessment and identification software used by all partners within Veterans NOW network coupled with DCHA’s lightning fast placement process cut the time between identification and lease-up from 111 days to just 54.

This collaborative effort for rapid housing has now become a national model for other VASH programs.

“We recognized early on that the veterans needed other services outside of just housing,” said DCHA’s Ronald McCoy, director of the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

To help address this critical need, the agency held fairs for veterans to learn about health, job training, and other services available to them, McCoy said. Fridays have become “Meet and Greet” day, where veterans know landlords showcase available units and services at the authority. Some landlords even arrange tours for the veterans of various properties, he said.

The Office of Veterans Affairs worked to raise furniture and bed donations. The Housing Authority has had great success in connecting new families to the Office of Veterans so vets would not come home to an empty house.
Easter Seals, a partner in DCHA’s Veterans Empowerment Program, and the authority are applying for a $2 million grant that would be awarded each year for the next three years to continue and expand on services for veterans, such as child care, job training, youth counseling, health care referrals, and homelessness prevention, McCoy said. The agency also is applying for another 75 VASH, or Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers.

Williams said with the help of DCHA, the VA, Pathways DC, and other Veterans NOW organizations, her life has changed for the better in the past two years. Now she fights for the rights and services that helped her for others like her. She said working on their behalf and encouraging them is what motivates her.

“I speak to homeless veterans all of the time,” Williams said. “I help them understand that homelessness is not them.”

Nationwide in 2013, nearly 60,000 homeless veterans were living on the street – a 25 percent decline since 2007. Nearly 500 of those vets were living in the District – a 29 percent decline from 2009.

Federal funding for VASH vouchers and Supportive Service for Veteran Families (SSVF) has helped reduce the numbers and will continue to do so in coming years, said Kevin Morton with the VA.

Veterans NOW - a local initiative - started in August 2013, is comprised of the District of Columbia Housing Authority, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of D.C. Veteran Affairs, The Community Partnership, Miriam’s Kitchen, and other government and non-profit organizations.

Vicky Williams
Vicky Williams
Last modified: 12/29/2014 4:08:23 PM