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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson

Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) Grand Opening
Charleston, SC
June 5, 2015

Good morning everyone.

You know, it’s been about 16 months now since I joined VA. Yet, despite visiting hundreds of VA facilities, talking to thousands of Veterans and stakeholders, and countless briefings and meetings, I still tend to look at some things as an outsider.

And when I think of what the American public expects of government, I think the public expects governmental departments to engage each other rather than function as silos—federal agencies working with states and counties and cities in true inter-governmental partnership, with processes engaging NGOs and the private sector in meaningful public-private partnerships.

These kinds of collaborations, teaming, partnerships, and alliances are essential to business—and to government—in the 21st century.

I think taxpayers expect their government to develop programs that tackle significant challenges and provide assistance to those Americans among us in greatest need. They expect us to use solid, evidence-based strategies to deliver that support. They expect us to have goals and objectives based on measurable outcomes, that show, and then report, steady progress and year-by-year improvement for those served.

In my view, those are the characteristics of best-in-class governance, best-in-class collaboration, and exactly the characteristics I find when I look at the work being done to end Veteran homelessness.

We have strong, productive collaboration among the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, partnerships with state and local government, and both non-profit and for-profit organizations in the private sector.

Just consider where we’ve come from. At the beginning of 2010, there were about 75,000 homeless Veterans across the United States. By the end of 2010, the number had dropped by 12 percent. By the end of 2011, another 7 percent drop. Eight percent in 2012, and 14 percent in 2013.

Since 2010 we’ve seen a 33 percent decline, nationally, in the estimated number of homeless Veterans and a nearly 40 percent drop in the number of Veterans sleeping on the street. That progress is due to a concerted effort toward a best-in-class governance ideal.

We must continue to put our resources where they will make the greatest impact—into good government, backing proven, evidence-based strategies essential to ending Veteran homelessness like

  • Housing first—housing first across every aspect of homeless services! We must remove barriers and help Veterans and families obtain permanent housing quickly, without unnecessary prerequisites;
  • Community-level, grass-roots mobilization and coordinated outreach and engagement;
  • Coordinated entry systems: no wrong door for Veterans seeking help;
  • Proactively seeking Veterans out and sharing lists of those homeless—if we don’t know who and where they are, we can’t get assistance to them;
  • Concrete and ambitious periodic goals;
  • Identifying and linking justice-involved Veterans to VA services they need—an off-ramp for Veterans who might otherwise end up homeless;
  • Extending the Veterans Court model throughout the Nation—two thirds of Veterans before these Courts successfully complete treatment, and with VA services, there has been an 88 percent reduction in arrests from year prior to year after Veteran Court admission. That’s demonstrable, evidence-based success;
  • And, last, we must connect Veterans with employers through collaborations.

Ending Veterans homelessness is a marathon, not a sprint—an unmitigated, untiring, endurance race. VA cannot get to zero by the end of December alone, without grass-roots efforts and determined partnerships.

Funding is important. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to chat with Jim Collins, author of the best-selling books Built to Last and Good to Great, among others. And Jim told me that any organization’s real strategy can be found very simply—by looking at how they allocate their resources. Funding is important!

Last year, FY 2014, VA invested over $1 billion dollars toward eliminating Veteran Homelessness. Since FY 2009, we’ve increased spending on ending Veterans homelessness by 268 percent.

We should thank the President, the First Lady, and Congress for their support and the commitment of resources. But, as you know well, it’s about a lot more than just money. It’s about the passion and the perseverance of good people and their vision for a better future. CRRCs, like the one we are opening here today, are a critical part of that vision and our emphasis on partnerships and collaboration.

CRRCs are multi-agency programs providing “one-stop shopping” for Veterans in need of housing, healthcare, job development programs, and other VA and non-VA benefits. Last year, over 20,000 Veterans were served at 29 CRRCs across the country.

CRRCs are based on a partnership with local community-based homeless providers & other federal & state agencies providing services in community settings to best facilitate access to care and services for Veterans & families.

Here, in greater Charleston, we are grateful for our partnership with Goodwill Industries. Rob Smith, CEO of Palmetto Goodwill, thank you for your leadership and generosity of spirit in being our partner in this work. It is God’s work.

We also partner with federal, state, and city leaders. So it is good to have with us partners like Senator Scott, North Charleston’s Mayor Keith Summey, and Mason Sullivan, from Senator Graham’s office, with us today.

CRRCs are one outstanding example of how we will continue to transform the department through our overarching initiative to best serve Veterans and encourage them to see the department as theirs. We call it MyVA, and it has five major goals:

  • Improving Veterans’ experiences so they are seamless, integrated, & responsive;
  • Improving employees’ experiences, focusing on people & culture, to better serve Veterans;
  • Improving our internal support services;
  • Establishing a culture of continuous improvement;
  • And, enhancing strategic partnerships.

We can end Veteran homelessness this year. Last December, New Orleans became the first major city to meet the challenge and end Veteran homelessness. We expect Fort Worth will hit zero very soon. Let’s all devote ourselves to reaching zero here, in the greater Charleston area, and in the great state of South Carolina. This CRRC will help us get there.

We have so many great partners—too many to mention them all, but including Goodwill Industries; Mayors Summey and Riley and your vibrant communities; the Charleston Public Housing Authority; South Carolina’s offices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Charleston Homeless Program; Charleston Vets; Veteran Villas; the Low Country Homeless Coalition; Local Continuums of Care; the South Carolina Coalition for the Homeless; the South Carolina Department of Mental Health; the United Way of the Midlands; and the good people, our colleagues, of VA’s VISN-7 team—Linda Williams, the Charleston VAMC Homeless Program Manager, our Homeless Patient Aligned Care Team (HPACT), our VA Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists, Supportive Services for Veteran and Families (SSVF), and the full range of VA resources all of them can bring to bear on the problem.

And we have another incredible resource—formerly homeless Veterans who have persevered and overcome long odds who are sharing their experience and knowledge—like the three I met this morning: Scott Evans, Miniquic Eazel, and Joe Towles. Thank you all.

Working together, we can, and we will, reach zero homeless Veterans. It’s the right thing to do.

Scott, thanks for inviting me to today’s ceremony. More importantly, thanks for your leadership of the Charleston VA Medical Center and the care your people provide South Carolina Veterans

.

To all in the audience—thank you for coming and supporting our efforts to end Veteran homelessness. May God bless all who serve and have served our Nation in uniform, and may He continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.

Thank you.