PHOENIX — The city of Phoenix may have brought chronic homelessness among veterans to an end, but the battle it far from over, Mayor Greg Stanton said Friday.
“When I became mayor a couple of years ago, I made ending homelessness one of my top priorities,” he told News/Talk 92.3 KTAR’s Rob & Karie.
To meet his goal, Stanton formed a partnership between the city, Valley businesses, the Veteran’s Administration and numerous Valley non-profits, including Valley of the Sun United Way.
“All of us decided that we should have our highest priority getting veterans that are on the streets, off the streets and into a stable housing situation,” he said.
The result was Victory Place, an affordable housing community for veterans that not only gives them a bed, but medical, substance abuse and mental health help. It also provides employment services.
Stanton also altered the way the Department of Housing and Urban Development works to give veterans priority to get them off the street and back on their feet.
Though he’s solved the problem of chronic homelessness — defined as being one the streets for one year or four times within a two-year period — Stanton knows his city has more work to do as young veterans return from combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Young veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq — many with PTSD or other conditions that are going to be challenging for them — we need to make sure there’s as much support infrastructure for them,” he said.
Stanton said the young veterans can be identified before they become homeless in varying ways, including the VA and social workers.
“We want to do all we can to make sure they don’t fall into homelessness, get them support services and the help they need so they don’t get into that situation.”
And he was speaking from experience. Stanton spent a night in the Mana House, a center for homeless veterans. It had an impact on him.
“It was shocking that so many were in their 20s and had served in these recent conflicts,” he said.
Stanton said one of the biggest needs of a veteran, be they young or old, is a job. Some employers in the Valley shy away from hiring them over fears of PTSD or other mental issues, but Stanton said that should be a non-issue.
“As a society, we have a lot of work to do to educate everyone, including and especially our employers, that hiring a veteran is a great thing and you’re not bringing anyone that’s going to cause negativity to your work site.”
Phoenix currently ranks as the second-most friendly city for veterans. Stanton hopes to claim the top spot from Pittsburgh soon.