What is Austin doing for homeless veterans?

It’s a cruel statistic: those who served overseas to protect their home are 50% more likely to end up without one.

"Many are carrying long deployments, hardships coming back," said Celia Feller, senior outreach social worker with the Central Texas VA Health Care System. "And though many transition well, we have those that do not transition well."

It’s been quite the journey for Austinite John Thompson since leaving the Navy.

"I was on the streets up until 2006 when I finally, my body just gave out and I was put into hospice, given 6 months or less to live and by the grace of God I’m here," said Thompson. "I can show you several (veterans) on the streets that shouldn’t be here."

He now lives in affordable housing and regularly stops by the Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center on Menchaca Road. "They’ve helped a lot," he said.

After the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs set a goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015 in 2009, efforts by the City of Austin really took off in 2013 with the Austin Homeless Veterans Initiative.

In 2015, Mayor Steve Adler launched a special task force to tackle the issue. In 2016, Austin was certified by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) as having effectively ended veteran homelessness.

"What that really means is that the number of veterans that would enter into homelessness each year, we would also have the capacity to immediately house them within 90 days," said Jo Kathryn Quinn, president and CEO of Caritas of Austin.

Caritas was one of the community’s frontrunners in the recent push to end homelessness among veterans.

"It’s not just giving someone a house, it’s looking at the bigger picture," said Faye Mills, program coordinator for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families at Caritas of Austin. "Our stability when clients transition out of our program is so high, and I think that is because we have these extra services to support them through that transition."

The program currently serves more than 50 clients and provides 9 months of wrap-around services, including a social worker, education team, employment team and healthcare navigators.

Quinn and Mills said one of the best ways homeless veterans can access resources is by filling out a coordinated entry survey. It’s essentially a community-wide database. Those with the highest need are given priority and directed to the right program for them.

Recent data does show the number of homeless veterans in the Austin area has improved in recent years. In 2011, veterans accounted for over 14% of the homeless population in Austin. Now, they account for less than 3%.

However, the goal is zero. "One homeless veteran is too many," said Feller.

Feller said one of the best places to start is the local VA clinic. She said veterans seeking help should be seen that day and connected with local resources. The Austin VA clinic is located at 7901 Metropolis Dr.

To fill out a coordinated assessment online or find a list of locations that have surveys on hand, click here.

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