NEWINGTON, Connecticut — The federal government has declared Connecticut the first state in the country to end chronic homelessness among veterans, officials announced Thursday.
The declaration means that all known veterans experiencing chronic homelessness in the state either have housing or are on an immediate path to permanent housing, officials said. Chronic homelessness is defined as being homeless for at least one year or being homeless at least four times in the past three years.
Advocates last year estimated there were more than 500 homeless veterans in Connecticut. A statewide survey in February by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness found 282 homeless veterans, including 18 experiencing chronic homelessness. Forty-one veterans were living on the streets or in other places not designated for human habitation — the lowest number in the 10-year history of the survey.
U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy held a news conference Thursday with other officials at a veterans' housing development on the campus of the VA Medical Center in Newington.
They said a wide range of people, agencies and organizations have been working hard to identify homeless veterans and find housing for them in Connecticut, from the state Veterans Affairs and Housing departments to federal VA case workers to the Connecticut Heroes Project campaign. Malloy also credited the state's investments in affordable housing.
"This is everyone working together," Malloy said. "I'm surprised that more states haven't joined this effort. This is a moral obligation that we owe to all of our veterans."
McDonald added, "The federal government cannot do it by itself. Ending homelessness in this country is a team sport."
Officials said that while their declaration doesn't mean more veterans won't become chronically homeless, systems are in place to help them quickly once they've been identified. Programs have the capability to find veterans temporary housing within 30 days and permanent housing within the next 60 days.
Luis Vazquez, a 49-year-old Navy veteran, has lived at the housing development where the news conference was held for the past two years. Vazquez said he was homeless off and on for 10 years — occasionally sleeping on park benches and friends' basements — before discovering the VA programs that helped him find permanent housing.
"It's awesome," he said about Thursday's announcement. "They (veterans) served their country. They deserve it. Each and every one of them deserve it, and the help is there."
Malloy said the efforts have found permanent housing for nearly 300 veterans who were chronically homeless.
Officials credited increases in housing vouchers through a federal program run by the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development. Connecticut sought and received 54 additional vouchers last fall and obtained another 75 vouchers last spring, bringing the statewide total to 755.
Connecticut is among four states and more than 70 communities nationwide participating in the Zero: 2016 initiative, a national campaign to meet the Obama administration goal of ending veteran and chronic homelessness by next year. Just under 50,000 veterans are homeless nationwide, according to Community Solutions Inc., a Washington-based nonprofit overseeing Zero: 2016.