August 4, 2015
By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Former Army ranger Charles Bouges has an all-too-common story.
“I had a mishap, lost my job, lost my wife, went through depression, just kind of gave up and didn’t have a place to stay,” he says.
Bouges found himself on the street, contributing to the grim statistics on veteran homelessness.
Now, he is a symbol of success for a collaborative effort to end veteran homelessness. City, federal and non-profit officials say they are closing in on their goal and expect that by November 11th, this year, they will reach what they call “functional zero” for the number of veterans living on the street– a measure that takes into account that some veterans may drift into homelessness but the effort will insure they will be quickly moved into permanent housing.
“Functional zero means that homelessness among veterans is rare, brief and non-recurring,” says Casey McCollum, Acting Homeless Coordinator at the VA Medical Center in West Philadelphia.
She says the collaboration, called PhillyVetsHome, has housed 1,126 veterans since it began in August 2013. There are another 280 in transitional housing that will soon be permanently housed and, she says, 31 who outreach workers are trying to bring into the system.
“I’ve never worked with anything that has had this much success, this much collaboration,” says Marie Nahikian, Philadelphia’s Director of Supportive Housing. “Agencies put down their barriers, set aside their rules and said, ‘figure out how to make this work’ and that commitment is phenomenal.”
She also says additional resources have helped, though officials were unable to say how much the effort has cost because so many agencies are involved. Nahikian says, though, whatever the cost, it is less expensive than the cost of leaving veterans on the street.
For Bouges, it was seeking medical attention at VA Medical Center that brought him into the system. Following his visit, he was directed to outreach workers who immediately offered him temporary housing and enrolled him in a detox and rehabilitation program.
In six months, he’d been assigned permanent housing.
“I’m in my place now. I’m happy,” he says. “The program really works for veterans.”