October 19, 2018

University helping Lincoln end veteran homelessness

File Photo

File Photo

A team from the University of Nebraska’s Center on Children, Families and the Law played an integral role in the work that recently allowed Lincoln officials to declare the functional end of homelessness for military veterans in the city.

The center has six staffers – with a seventh soon to be hired – who focus on fighting homelessness in Lincoln and the balance of Nebraska outside Omaha, according to program director Jeff Chambers, a sociologist with more than 20 years of community service system design and research and evaluation experience.

Team members were among those attending a news conference earlier this month during which Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler announced the city had achieved “functional zero” – a designation indicating that a community’s homeless response system has the capacity to immediately house any veteran who identifies as homeless. Lincoln is the 62nd community in the country to achieve the benchmark.

“It doesn’t mean there’s never another veteran in Lincoln who experiences homelessness,” Chambers said. “It means we have a system in place to identify those who are homeless, to get them into shelter and to make sure their homelessness is of short duration and doesn’t happen again.

“Veterans become homeless at higher rates than the general population.”

Members of University of Nebraska Center on Children, Families and the Law team are, from left, Jeffrey Chambers, Angel Shafer, Denise Packard, Mary Bothwell, Abby Burianek and Alexandra Labenz
Courtesy photo
Members of University of Nebraska Center on Children, Families and the Law team are, from left, Jeffrey Chambers, Angel Shafer, Denise Packard, Mary Bothwell, Abby Burianek and Alexandra Labenz.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder increases homelessness, as well as issues that follow PTSD such as other mental health issues such as depression and panic disorder, substance abuse and difficulty re-integrating into civilian life. Gulf War-era veterans, who served from 1990 on, now are the largest single bloc of veterans experiencing homelessness, he said, although some Vietnam War veterans are having more difficulty in maintaining stability as they age.

The team supports two continuum of care groups that serve Lincoln and the balance of Nebraska outside Omaha in providing and integrating housing and homeless services. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care Program establishes community-wide continuum of care groups to coordinate efforts against homelessness among nonprofit providers and state and local government agencies.

The team assisted the Lincoln and the balance of Nebraska continuum of care groups in obtaining more than $3.9 million in annual grant funding from HUD. Earlier this year, the university’s team led the balance of state continuum of care effort that obtained a $3.28 million demonstration grant targeting youth homelessness in areas of Nebraska outside of Lincoln and Omaha. It was one of 11 competitive grants awarded. The university will assist community leaders in developing a coordinated plan to provide housing and homeless assistance for youth under 24 years of age.

The CCFL team also receives direct grant funding for its work through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the City of Lincoln.

For 15 years, the CCFL team has assisted Lincoln’s Homeless Coalition with planning and data management systems.

The team manages the Homeless Management Information System, a data base that identifies everyone who is homeless and receiving services through shelters, housing programs or other resources. The system provides information to federal, state and local government about the extent of homelessness and is key to obtaining federal funds to assist people. The CCFL team trains end users on how to use the system and enter data, providing ongoing data management and data quality services.

For more than five years, the team has lead the Nebraska effort outside of Omaha in the design and implementation of a Homeless Coordinated Entry system to identify those who have become homeless; provide common assessment of vulnerability, acuteness of need, and best housing solutions for each person; and set priorities so that those at most risk of harm will be the first to be served.

The team also provides data and analysis to assist with homeless system planning and program development.