CADILLAC — After years of hard work, an event held Monday in Cadillac was a day of celebration and of community.
The celebration was in recognition of Manistee, Missaukee and Wexford counties reaching the goal of becoming Functional Zero when it comes to homelessness in the veteran population.
For those who don’t know, Functional Zero means 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, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This means that every veteran has access to the supports they need and want to avoid staying on the street and move quickly to permanent housing.
Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program Director Dave Ransom said the achievement doesn’t mean there are not homeless veterans living within those three counties but it does mean there is a system in place within those communities to help those individuals.
“We can identify homeless veterans or veterans who are about to be homeless and we can get them connected to services right away,‘ he said. “(The system) takes people as soon as they are homeless and moves them back into housing. The technical date to do that is 90 days or a little bit less than that.‘
Ransom said being at Functional Zero also means the community, in this case, Manistee, Missaukee and Wexford counties, has more homeless veterans exiting homelessness than they have veterans who are becoming homeless. As long as the community has the capacity to take veterans from homelessness to housing within 90 days it is considered Functional Zero, Ransom said.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness developed a guide to ending veteran homelessness including establishing Functional Zero within communities. To achieve Functional Zero, communities must have practices in place to ensure all veterans experiencing homelessness are identified and sheltered immediately — if the veteran chooses.
In addition, communities have the ability to quickly place veterans experiencing homelessness into permanent housing, only using transitional housing programs on rare occasion. Communities achieving Functional Zero have shown evidence of chronic and long-term homelessness among veterans dissolving.
To achieve this goal it also requires a community-wide plan that organizes all resources and programs as well as sustaining Functional Zero for veterans going forward, according to the VA.
The Northwest Community Action Agency’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program was instrumental in not only providing direct services to veterans but also developing a strong community plan and bringing all community stakeholders together for its implementation.
As a result, veterans experiencing homelessness received outreach services and case management, in addition to public housing subsidies. Such efforts were a driving force for Manistee, Wexford and Missaukee counties to achieving the benchmarks for Functional Zero among veterans experiencing homelessness. The three counties are the second area in Michigan to meet this goal and the first within the Michigan Balance of State Continuum of Care.
Ransom said for this to happen in Northern Michigan is huge as the only other region that has accomplished this was in the Grand Rapids area.
“It is huge for us especially being in a more rural setting. Grand Rapids was the other community and their resources and how they are set up is different,‘ he said. “We are really on the cutting edge of the rural homelessness and that is what makes it special to me.‘