The city of Winston-Salem is having success in reducing its homeless veteran population.

Ten years ago, Winston-Salem faced a veteran housing crisis.

“When we started this work, veterans represented 25 percent of our homeless population here in Forsyth County and that was true nationally and they are about eleven percent of the overall U.S. population,” said Andre Kurtz, the senior director of housing strategies for the United Way.

Kurtz is responsible for implementing the city's plan to end chronic homelessness. “One of the things that was most shocking to me when I started really looking at the vets that were homeless is that most of them were still 40 year out Vietnam era vets and that is no way to treat someone who has sacrificed for our country.”

The idea behind the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness in Forsyth County began in 2005. Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines created a Blue Ribbon Task Force to study the issue.  County Commissioners and other community organizations partnered with the city to develop the plan. It was adopted a year later.

According to Kurtz, currently there are around 43 homeless veterans in Forsyth County. She says Winston-Salem has made significant headway in reaching the goal of creating 600 units of supported housing. One major contribution has been the creation of Veterans Helping Veterans Heal, a transitional housing facility for homeless vets with significant disabilities.

She said permanent housing is also key to a veteran's success of changing their life. “It's much easier to find a job when you have a permanent home because one of the first things that your prospective employer will ask is what is your address?”

Kurtz added, “We have been very strong at making sure that veterans have opportunities for vouchers if that's what they need to support them in their housing. We also have a rapid housing program specifically for veterans and their families and with that program, we've seen about a 95 percent success rate of vets coming into our program and leaving stably housed. It has a very low recidivism. We don't see them again as clients.”

Last month, Winston Salem joined the Homeless Veteran Leadership Network, a national initiative challenging cities to find creative solutions to end veteran homelessness in 2015. The National League of Cities is organizing the program. Charlotte is the only other North Carolina city currently participating in the challenge.

*Molly Burke is a senior majoring Communication & Psychology at Wake Forest University.

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