White House: Syracuse among first cities to end veteran homelessness


VanKeuren Square, a new apartment building for homeless veterans at 2223 E. Genesee St. in Syracuse, opened in May 2014. The housing helped Syracuse attain recognition from the White House for becoming one of the first cities in the nation to end veteran homelessness. (Stephen D. Cannerelli | scannerelli@syracuse.com)

VanKeuren Square, a new apartment building for homeless veterans at 2223 E. Genesee St. in Syracuse, opened in May 2014. The housing helped Syracuse attain recognition from the White House for becoming one of the first cities in the nation to end veteran homelessness. (Stephen D. Cannerelli | scannerelli@syracuse.com)

By Mark Weiner | mweiner@syracuse.com

Published from syracuse.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Central New York observes Veterans Day today, White House officials say Syracuse has an extra reason to be proud of how it treats those who served their nation.

Syracuse is among three new cities added today to the White House list of municipalities that have wiped out homelessness for veterans as part of a 2010 national initiative.

Syracuse was joined this year by Las Vegas and Schenectady in achieving the goal, reached previously by only 10 other cities and counties, White House officials said.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Syracuse native, also plans to announce today that his adopted state is the first in the nation to end veteran homelessness in all corners of the commonwealth.

Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said the progress is part of a “very audacious step” the administration took in 2010 to end homelessness among the nation’s veterans.

The “Opening Doors” campaign that began in 2010 was the nation’s first national strategic plan aimed at ending veteran homelessness, a problem faced by about 67,000 veterans in 2011.

A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development national survey of homeless veterans this year showed the number decreased by 36 percent between 2010 and January 2015.

About 48,000 veterans nationwide were counted as homeless at the beginning of the year, according to HUD officials.

Syracuse attained its national ranking and recognition from the White House by setting up a system that allows homeless veterans to be identified and placed in housing within 45 days.

“It is tremendous progress, but we also know we have a lot of work to do,” Munoz said in a conference call with reporters.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner was among more than 800 city and county officials who signed a 2010 pledge to end veteran homelessness.

Miner said she is proud of the accomplishment, the result of a joint effort among social service agencies, nonprofit organizations and government officials.

“It’s one of those moments that makes me very humble as mayor,” Miner said in an interview Tuesday.

Miner cautioned that the designation does not mean Syracuse has taken all of its homeless veterans permanently off the streets, or found ways to prevent any veteran from becoming temporarily homeless.

“It means we have a process put in place to identify and find services for veterans to make sure they are not homeless, or slip into homelessness,” the mayor said.

Syracuse considers its number of homeless veterans to be “functionally zero” because the city’s support system allows at-risk veterans to be identified and placed into housing within the 45 days, Miner said.

“We get them off the street almost immediately and get them into a temporary shelter and then extended shelter,” Miner said. “The hard part is identifying them and getting them off the streets. You can’t just step in and offer them an apartment or bed.”

The process involves building trust between social service providers and veterans, who are often reluctant to accept help, Miner said. Those veterans sometimes need other assistance to treat underlying problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Syracuse, with the help of nonprofit groups, has also increased the amount of housing available specifically to homeless veterans.

Last year, Housing Visions opened an $11.5 million, 50-apartment building for homeless veterans on Syracuse’s East Side.

VanKeuren Square at 2223 E. Genesee St. is the first housing development in Syracuse earmarked for homeless veterans that has on-site support services from the Syracuse VA Medical Center.

Housing Visions previously built housing for veterans on East Fayette Street and at the former Cherry Hill public housing site in Syracuse.

Separately, HUD granted $530,230 to Syracuse and other Central New York cities and towns in 2014 as part of an effort to help homeless veterans and their families in the region.

Munoz said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is now serving a record number of veterans with specialized homelessness or at-risk services.