Federal officials have recognized the city of Akron and its partners in Summit County for developing a community care system capable of providing a home to every homeless veteran who wants one.
Akron has achieved what is called “functional zero,” what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines as “a well-coordinated and efficient community system that assures homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring and no veteran is forced to live on the street.”
The designation issued Friday by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the VA marks the culmination of 18 months of collaboration by advocates in the Akron/Summit County Continuum of Care, a coalition of support service providers, homeless shelters, banks, philanthropists, the University of Akron and more.
More specifically, the effort is known as the Veterans Functional Zero group. Leading the group has been Community Support Services and Info Line, Inc., which assist the mentally ill and homeless in accessing help. Together, homelessness for veterans has been cut in half as partners stream services, create a centralized intake process and connect with homeless veterans on a personal and continual basis.
“This isn’t the end game for us,” said Joe Scalise, vice president of Access Services at Info Line and chair of Veterans Functional Zero. “This is an ongoing process. Its one thing to build a system. It’s another to operate it. We want to make sure we can give as many veterans housing as possible.”
In 2016, HUD tasked Akron and other communities across the country with achieving functional zero. Local advocates responded by establishing a one-stop hot line, leveraging government programs that help with rent and adding temporary or long-term housing, like those offered at the large-scale apartment complex at the Commons at Madeline Park.
“This designation is a significant achievement for the city of Akron and the Continuum of Care, and a milestone in our fight to end veterans’ homelessness in this community,” Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said. “Our community has come together and made thoughtful, ongoing use of our best resources, expanded services, and removed barriers that prevent the homeless in our city from accessing housing and care. Our city is fortunate to have so many strong, supportive partners in this effort.”
Some residents have continually criticized the city for the “warehousing of the homeless.” But, by the numbers, the effort is effective.
Each January, the Continuum of Care counts the number of homeless in Summit County. For veterans, that figure fell by more than 50 percent from 128 in 2015 to 61 this year — all but seven in a shelter. Those who have not opted to accept help are offered it every month, Scalise said, with the hope that they will someday say yes.
“Obviously some veterans may choose to stay in camp and not take advantage of it,” Scalise said. “But we wanted to make sure the system is in place for them … We need to have a community that takes care of those who make sacrifices for us.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug .