Four cities in Western New York are being recognized by the federal government for efforts to combat homelessness among veterans.
Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Lockport and Tonawanda are joining two states and 29 other cities and counties as having achieved "The Mayors Challenge to End Homelessness," an initiative of first lady Michelle Obama.
The goal was to "effectively end veteran homelessness," meaning there is a system set up so that homelessness among veterans is rare, brief and non-recurring, local officials said in a news release.
The cities have been recognized for their efforts by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The call to action "is for mayors to make a commitment to ending veteran homelessness in their cities," according to HUD's website.
"This designation confirms the hard work our local partners have been doing to assist our most vulnerable veterans," said Dale Zuchlewski, executive director of the Homeless Alliance of WNY, in a written statement. "Though our close community partnerships, we have now become a national best-practice model for service to homeless veterans."
The four cities achieved federal benchmarks, including providing immediate shelter to any veteran "experiencing unsheltered homelessness" who wants the shelter. The benchmarks also involve once the veteran accepts an offer of housing, that they are able to be housed within 90 days, local officials said.
The benchmarks also call for only providing "service-intensive transitional housing" in limited instances.
"Achieving and maintaining 'functional zero' for veteran homelessness is a community effort that requires collaboration and accountability at all levels," said Roger L. Woodworth, president and CEO of the Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY. "This is an exciting designation for our region and an opportunity to be recognized for the impact of work our community has done and continues to do in empowering our veterans."
Anyone who knows a veteran who is homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless, call the VA Health Care for Veterans Program at (716) 862-8885. There's also a 24-hour hotline at 1 (877) 4AID-VET. The VA's crisis line is 1 (800) 273-8255.