Riverside County has become the nation’s first large county to meet “functional zero,” a federal benchmark for making permanent housing available for all homeless veterans who seek assistance from the county.
The Board of Supervisors established the Veteran Assistance Leadership of Riverside County (VALOR) initiative in June 2013 to find permanent housing for every homeless veteran in Riverside County. Together, the Housing Authority division of the county Economic Development Agency, the Department of Public Social Services, Riverside University Health System, Sheriff’s Department, Probation Department, and Veterans’ Services partnered with housing providers, cities, law enforcement agencies and community agencies toward the goal of helping all homeless veterans get off the streets.
Since VALOR’s inception, more than 1,100 homeless veterans have been placed into permanent housing, including 582 veterans housed since January 2015, when Riverside County launched the federal Zero 2016 initiative.
Air Force veteran Michelle Steckel, who once was homeless and struggled with alcohol addiction, now helps connect homeless veterans with services for housing support, behavioral health and substance abuse. Steckel said some veterans are unaware of the available services and that education is key.
“I am now giving back to Riverside what it has given to me,” Steckel said.
Reaching the federal benchmark of “functional zero” requires a well-coordinated and efficient system that ensures homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring, and that all veterans have access to the resources they need to move quickly to permanent housing. Although some individual veterans and their families still will become homeless or return to homelessness, a housing-crisis response system is in place to quickly identify and link them immediately with resources to help them maintain permanent housing.
“‘Functional zero’ means the county has the resources and response systems in place to ensure any veteran who is homeless or is at risk of becoming homeless will get timely help and support,” said Lynne Brockmeier, manager of Riverside University Health System – Behavioral Health Housing Crisis Response Team. “We have achieved this milestone and we plan to file for that official federal recognition later this month.”
Damien O’Farrell, chief executive officer of Path of Life Ministries, said participants have focused on the “yes” of opening doors rather than concentrating on obstacles. The Riverside-based ministry operates housing programs that provided shelter beds, bridge housing, behavioral health support and outreach services to chronically homeless veterans.
“The outreach staff within our housing teams have been on the frontlines,” O’Farrell said “It’s been really rewarding and fun to see systems start to change.”
District 4 Supervisor John J. Benoit, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said it is gratifying to help struggling veterans who are homeless. And while many still will need social services and behavioral-health support, the system to help is now in place.
“We are determined to be here for them as a safety net, just as they were there for our nation when they answered the call to serve in the Armed Forces,” Benoit said.
Veterans in need of housing assistance may call 1-877-424-3838 or 1-877-4AIDVET