By Chris Candelaria
In June of 2014, first lady Michelle Obama issued a unique challenge to cities across the United States. This was called the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.
As a veteran myself, I couldn’t have been more proud of such an initiative. At the same time I was so skeptical of the possibility of ending veteran homelessness. Many mayors across the United States took on the challenge, including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
Two years later, Buffalo is triumphant. On Oct. 20, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Lockport and the City of Tonawanda declared that they have met the Mayors Challenge and ended chronic homelessness by reaching what is called “functional zero,” meaning that the number of veterans who are homeless is no greater than the monthly housing placement rate for veterans.
This data was efficiently tracked by an organization called the Homeless Alliance of Western New York using the Homeless Management Information System. As an outreach worker, I have seen the hard work that multiple organizations and individuals put in to see such a feat accomplished.
I see now that we must continue our work to meet other goals. I would challenge that since we have already ended one piece of the homeless problem, why not focus on another?
The Western New York Coalition for the Homeless is an association of service providers and concerned individuals who have joined together to empower and advocate for people in need of safe, affordable and permanent housing and related services.
This organization, based out of Buffalo, has focused intently on homeless initiatives. One of the big initiatives that has been worked on for years seeks to end chronic homelessness.
These individuals arguably make up the most vulnerable members of our society and are some of the hardest to work with. There are a number of aggravating factors that affect this population, including drug and alcohol abuse and extensive criminal activity, as well as severe and persistent mental illness.
Finding housing for these individuals is hard enough, let alone maintaining some level of stability through coordinated care or other supports. Keeping these individuals housed seems to be just as big an issue as finding affordable housing.
I believe this is where the focus needs to be. The City of Buffalo needs to be able to contribute to this cause by increasing funding for housing initiatives that will create more affordable housing.
Too often we see communities complain and force out these individuals instead of speaking to the politicians and policymakers who control the direction Buffalo takes.
The many homeless service agencies across Western New York need more help. Only with collaboration and a common goal can we continue to work toward eventually solving the homeless problem.
Chris Candelaria has worked in the homeless community for five years. He is the founder of the WNY Homeless Blog.