By Ted Cox | November 11, 2015 4:55pm | Updated on November 12, 2015 8:28am
SOUTH LOOP — Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed to get all homeless veterans off the streets by the end of 2015, but he didn’t mention it Wednesday as he paired with the Chicago Housing Authority to mark Veterans Day.
The mayor and CHA announced that 450 additional Housing Choice Vouchers will be distributed to U.S. veterans over the next three years. According to the Mayor’s Press Office, the CHA already distributes 1,053 Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers, as well as supporting 253 veterans who might otherwise be homeless through its Property Rental Assistance program.
“In the City of Chicago, we do not want to see a veteran call Lower Wacker home ever again,” Emanuel said in a Veterans Day ceremony at Soldier Field. “If you come home to America, you deserve a home.”
Yet, in touting the expanded voucher program, the Emanuel administration presented little data on the number of homeless vets in the city, and made no mention of the mayor’s pledge to get all homeless vets off the streets by the end of the year.
“When Mayor Emanuel committed to end homelessness among veterans in Chicago he helped launch a comprehensive approach in partnership with numerous organizations and federal agencies,” said mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman on Thursday. “Since that time, the city has exceeded our initial goal of housing more than 700 veterans — a target based on the federally mandated point-in-time count — with nearly 1,300 veterans being housed to date and more than 600 additional veterans working with housing providers to find a home.”
In September 2014, in making the pledge to end homelessness among veterans, the mayor announced that a January 2014 survey had counted more than 700 homeless vets in the city.
Yet that number may have been an underestimate, according to a nonprofit group. Volunteers of America Illinois estimates that 1,000 homeless vets are on the city streets on any given night. The U.S. Conference of Mayors 2014 Survey on Hunger & Homelessness estimated that 9 percent of Chicago’s homeless population consisted of veterans, actually up from 6 percent the previous year. Volunteers of America attempted to explain that increase by saying “over 25 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are showing acute symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” calling that “a significant factor in the high rate of homelessness for veterans.”
“The estimate of 1,000 veterans who are homeless a night is pretty accurate data that is substantiated by the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ Point in Time survey,” said Liliana Scales, spokeswoman for Volunteers of America Illinois. “It’s estimated that Chicago has nearly 7,000 people who are homeless [and] nearly 1,000 are veterans. Illinois as a state has around 13,000 people who are homeless.”
The city’s own Department of Family and Support Services counted 5,329 homeless people in shelters and another 965 unsheltered in January 2014, but acknowledged that “veterans comprise a disproportionate share of the homeless population” — while they account for only 3 percent of the general population, they are 16 percent of the homeless (about 1,000 homeless veterans). It also found “a significant increase” in the percentage of homeless people living on the street who are veterans, from 15 percent in 2011 to 27 percent in 2014. It attributed part of that increase to a better count thanks to working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“In close collaboration with our partners, we developed a more accurate approach to identifying veterans in need of housing, known as the One List,” Huffman said. “Based on this list, we have several hundred veterans left to place on the path to housing. Going forward, the One List will allow us to individually target veterans for outreach, ensuring that we can confidently measure progress towards our goal of ending homelessness among veterans.”
“No veteran who fights for our homeland should ever be without a home of their own,” Emanuel said in a statement issued ahead of the Veterans Day event. “That is why we are working to finally end veteran homelessness in Chicago, and with the help of this effort by the Chicago Housing Authority we take another step toward achieving that goal.
“By continuing to collaborate with our key partners from the city and the federal government, we will finally end veteran homelessness once and for all in Chicago and give our men and women who served in uniform a future worthy of their sacrifice,” Emanuel added.
“CHA is proud to be part of the ‘Ending Veteran Homeless Initiative,’ and to be part of Mayor Emanuel’s challenge to end veteran homelessness in the City of Chicago,” said Eugene Jones Jr., acting chief executive officer of the CHA. The agency, he added, “has a long history of working with the VA and will continue to leverage the power of affordable, safe and stable housing to help build vibrant communities throughout Chicago.”