Project H3 VETS

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Project H3 VETS is a community collaboration coordinated by the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness. Project H3 VETS looks to identify and house homeless Veterans in Phoenix. Arizona Department of Veterans Services Homeless Veterans Services coordinator Sean Price and Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness and Project H3 VETS project manager Shane Groen talk about this initiative.

José Cárdenas: Project H3 VETS is a partnership of the Arizona coalition to end homelessness. You will hear more about this project and the homeless epidemic among the local Veteran community from a couple of guests in a moment, but first here's Project H3 VETS at victory place a community for Veterans.

Project H3 VETS Clip:
Dexter/Veteran: I'm a kind of hands-on person. I like slicing, dicing, making things with my hands. Working with a world class chef. We're all in our 60s here. But we do the work like we're in our 20s. It's just great being around these people. I joined the military in 1969, and I served until 1973. It took me a long time to make all the mistakes I made and rebound, and make the mistakes again, and whatnot. But alcoholism is my forte. I was homeless three or four years. Without places like this, there's a lot of people that don't get the opportunity to clean themselves up and have a better life. These places are absolutely necessary.

Amanda/Supervisor: We have one individual living in a storage shed, one individual that was living under bridges. There's multiple people living under bridges and washes.

Shane/Coordinator: The guy that's sleeping under a bridge downtown and staying out of the way of everyone, and not going into the V.A. for services, those are the people that we're trying to house and get them off the streets and into permanent housing. Those are the ones that we've been targeting throughout this project. I think that definitely a lot of these guys would still be on the streets if it wasn't for this program. At a minimum, people that have risked everything to give us the freedom that we enjoy every day deserve to live in a home.

José Cárdenas: Joining me now is Sean Price, Statewide Homeless Coordinator for the Arizona Department of Veterans Services. Also here, Shane Groen. Shane is with the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness and the Project H3 VETS Project Manager. Welcome to "Horizonte." Shane, tell us first what H3 stands for.

Shane Groen: Home, health, and hope. Originally we had a project called H3 where we were housing chronically homeless individuals in downtown Phoenix. And Project H3 VETS was born out of that. We decided we wanted to house 75 chronically homeless, and after we did the 75 we started looking at the numbers and realizing that we could actually end chronic homelessness among veterans in Phoenix. So we've continued the project since then.

José Cárdenas: The Arizona Coalition effort is part of a nationwide effort as I understand it.

Shane Groen: 100,000 homes campaigned, correct.

José Cárdenas: In terms of your local activities, you're partnering with a bunch of people including the state. Tell us how that came to be.

Shane Groen: Just any project of this scale requires considerable amount of collaboration. You have to have community buy-in, so we have United Way, City of Phoenix, community bridges, the V.A. Health Care System in Phoenix, they're all tremendous partners and they make these type of things possible, because everyone has to be working together as one unit, breaking down barriers to serve this population because it's a very difficult population to serve.

José Cárdenas: Sean, you're a relatively young man but in some ways you're the grandpa-pa of this effort in Arizona in dealing with this population. Tell us how that came to be.

Sean Price: As an individual?

José Cárdenas: Yes.

Sean Price: I got into the Department of Veterans Services as a Homeless Veterans Services Coordinator in roughly 2011, but as an intern prior to that with the department. My cohort and me Brad Bridwell, we developed Arizona action plan to end homelessness among veterans, which is our statewide plan. Based off that plan is where Project H3 VETS was born, our first goal of that plan was to end chronic homelessness among veterans and our initiative to do that in the Phoenix metro area is Project H3 VETS.

José Cárdenas: Help us get a sense of the scope of the problem. I've seen some of the materials; we talked about a homeless veteran population statewide that's about 1,200-1,250. And then you're focused on a subset.

Sean Price: Roughly 1,250 veterans are homeless at any given time in the state of Arizona. In the Phoenix metro area, that's roughly 50% of that 1,250. What you break down is the chronic part. That's your hardest to serve population that makes up a small percent of that roughly 600, I would say in the Phoenix metro area. And we've tracked that population through data sets, our biggest data set is our Arizona stand down we hold each year. What we saw there at the stand down is 222 chronically homeless veterans in and that's where we're basing our data on. That was our initial goal. Since then we've been housing out of that stand down in 2012 of that population. And right now to date I believe we have three move in today so we've housed to date.

José Cárdenas: And the definition of chronically homeless?

Sean Price: A chronically homeless veteran or individual, it comes out of HUD, and it's a person that's been homeless one year or more with a disabling condition that can be mental health, substance abuse, or physical disability. Or it's an individual that's been homeless four times in the last three years with a disabling condition as a chronic definition.

José Cárdenas: That's pretty significant. Most people who experience homelessness, it's a very transient situation.

Sean Price: Yeah. Most people, you could say roughly 80% of individuals that do become homeless, you're looking at roughly 27 days and they're out of homelessness. But when you get to the chronic, those are the individuals that other 20% that can't pull their selves out of homelessness due to some type of underlying condition. That's where that mental health or substance abuse or physical dish comes into play. And that's what is keeping them in the homelessness. And so projects like this are specialized in that population to target them with specialized resources and as Shane was saying, it takes a huge community of those resources to get this population served and into housing.

José Cárdenas: I think most people would think the focus on veterans is because we have all these people coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the population we're talking about of homeless veterans is actually from the Vietnam era.

Shane Groen: It's Vietnam era, and that is the chronic population, the majority of those guys are Vietnam era. And a lot of the guys we've housed have been homeless since the war. We've housed guys that have been homeless almost 50 years. The average is eight years homeless and we've seen a lot of guys from OEF, OiF are coming back and they still have their social supports in place, they have friends and family to rely on.

José Cárdenas: These are the more --

Shane Groen: The more recent veterans. The Vietnam veterans have kind of burned all those social supports and they've been alone for a long time and that makes them the hardest to serve. A lot of them are resistant in seeking out services, and that's where our peer supports come into play where they befriend these guys and tell them about different programs we might be able to help them with are and get them into the V.A. and enrolled and see what services they're eligible for.

José Cárdenas: As I understand it part of the reason why this would be particularly acute is many of the services they're now available, weren't available at the time they were getting out of the service.

Shane Groen: That's true. The V.A. system has made leap and strides in recognizing things like PTSD and other things that weren't recognized in that era. They're really focused on serving these guys that have been left out in the cold a long time.

José Cárdenas: I want to talk about some of the successes before we get into the details. We've got some pictures we want to put on the screen of some successes in housing the homeless. This one here, I think was this gentleman in the video we saw?

Shane Groen: This is not the same gentleman, but two gentlemen that we actually housed in accepted I believe, Walter and Steven. Great guys, doing well in housing. They're with their navigator Roberta and she checks on them regularly. All these barriers they run into after being on the streets and getting housing, a lot of times they have to relearn independent living skills that are very second nature to a lot of us. And those navigators help them maintain housing.

José Cárdenas: We're going to keep rolling pictures. While we're doing that, explain the role of the Navigator.

Shane Groen: They're advocates for the veterans, that's their sole purpose, to make sure they maintain housing and get what they need are in terms of health care, getting them to their primary care physician appointments instead of utilizing the E.R., which is the general M.O. of being on the streets as well as taking them grocery shopping, taking them to do their laundry if need be. They check in with their landlords regularly. Anything that could result in them losing their housing, they're there to support them and prevent that from happening.

José Cárdenas: It makes a pretty significant difference in terms of the success rate.

Shane Groen: It does. Nationally I believe the retention is around 80% for this population that we're serving, and we have a 94% retention after 20 months of the project. So we've been very successful in making sure they maintain their housing.

José Cárdenas: Sean, let's talk about the big event earlier this week, the announcements involving the city of Phoenix, the mayor making some commitments to get all of the homeless -- Chronically homeless veterans indoors by the end of this month.

Sean Price: I know. It's a big task, but what it came out of is the week of October, 18th and 19th, we had roughly 140 volunteers that went out for three mornings and did some street surveying to find out what chronically homeless veterans are still on the streets. And from that survey, we found that there was still 56 chronically homeless veterans on the streets in the Phoenix metro area. What we did from that point is we have already been in partnership with the city of Phoenix and mayor Stanton's office, and we took that to them saying, we're 56 away from ending chronic homelessness, we want to be the first city to do this, and they said what do you need? What came out of that is roughly $100 thousand, which the city council did vote and approve unanimously yesterday. And what that $100 thousand what we're going to do with that money is go out, find all of these homeless veterans and place them into bridge housing. From that point we'll work those veterans and get them into their own housing. So we held an event on Veterans Day at victory place three, and the mayor led that event, and what was also at that event was all the leaders within our community, including my director, director Ted Vogt, expressing the collaboration amongst everybody in the community to solve this challenge of homelessness among veterans. And we were surprised when senator McCain came to our event and spoke and gave his support for this initiative. So we'll take that money, we've already been working on finding those bridge units and we're starting to work on finding these veterans and place them. Our goal is by the end of this year by Christmas area is to have all 56 into housing, and then by February 2014 we will have housed all these veterans. And we can at that point claim what is called functional zero, so we're at a point now where there's no chronic homeless veterans left on the streets in Phoenix.

José Cárdenas: You talk about getting people into housing. There's been a lot of discussion recently about this being kind of a policy shift intended to have greater impact in terms of the needs of these veterans.

Sean Price: The shift is what we call housing first. And in the past, how it used to be is any homeless individual to get into a program or to get into housing program have you to be clean, sober and then they'd place them in housing. The shift now is called housing first, where we go out, find the chronically homeless veterans, pick them off the street and place them into their own apartment. Then once they're in their apartment and stabilized, we're able to wrap all those services around to help them with whatever is ailing them. It could be they have mental health or substance abuse, things of that nature, so we can bring the community in and help support those challenges that they face, and it's a proven national best practice that housing first does work. And it's the way to solve chronicle homelessness among our veterans.

José Cárdenas: We've put the phone number for your organization on the screen. How can people help and I realize you get these people that we're talking about into houses by the end of the month, there's still a lot of work left to be done.

Shane Groen: We always need support, whether it be financial, material goods we provide, even individuals when we move them in we make sure they have a full apartment of furniture, broom, mop, dishes, pots and pans, all those things we provide through the coalition. So financial donations are of course always welcome, but if you want to come in, volunteer, we always have projects that we're doing, whether it be the outreach events like Sean talked about going out and doing street surveys, or data entry, anything like that. So we welcome anyone that wants to help out, whether with labor or financial.

José Cárdenas: Sounds good. Shane Groen and Sean price, thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."

Sean Price:Veterans Services Coordinator, Arizona Department of Veterans Services;Shane Groen:Project Manager, Project H3 VETS and Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness;

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