There are approximately 300,000 veterans living in Oregon today. It is a rich and diverse community, spanning four generations with service in five major wars. They are men and women, young and old, urban and rural, gay, straight and transgender, and of every ethnicity and creed. While one in 14 Oregonians is a veteran, sadly, one in ten Oregonians experiencing homelessness has served in the military. But there is good news on the horizon.
On July 31, Oregon Housing and Community Services and the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs concluded the eight-and-a-half-month-long campaign known as Operation Welcome Home. The short-term campaign helped ten communities, through technical assistance and support, as they developed a collaborative infrastructure with the long-term goal of ending veteran homelessness across Benton, Clackamas, Coos, Crook, Curry, Deschutes, Douglas, Jackson, Jefferson, Josephine, Klamath, Lane, Lake, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk, and Yamhill counties.
Organizations partnered to set up an infrastructure to end veterans experiencing homelessness within their community including federal programs, county veteran service officers, community action agencies, veteran organizations, local homeless shelters, community elected officials, and grassroots volunteer organizations.
Operation Welcome Home is funded through Measure 96 Oregon Lottery dollars allocated to improve outcomes for veterans by the 2017 Legislature, and supports local communities as they work to end veteran homelessness — a firm goal that Governor Kate Brown has made one of her administration’s top priorities.
When the initiative launched in November, the collective goal was to house 500 veterans before the completion of the campaign. That goal was exceeded and 529 homeless Oregon veterans now have a place to call home.
One veteran who found housing, let’s call her Mary, is a single mother of two young children. She experienced significant trauma during her service and her life post-military hasn’t been easy. Earlier this year, Mary escaped a violent domestic abuse environment.
She and her children survived, but they had nowhere to go. Mary felt that she was running out of options until her friend referred her to Central Oregon Veterans Outreach. They immediately connected her with housing and mental health resources. Now, Mary and her children can sleep comfortably with a roof over their heads.
Operation Welcome Home has had a transformative impact on not just the veterans served, but on their children, families, and community. Thanks to partnerships and leveraging shared resources, and thanks especially to the dedicated work of community partners, hundreds and even thousands of lives have been impacted through Operation Welcome Home.
Beyond the lives impacted in this short time-frame, Operation Welcome Home helped establish an infrastructure to better coordinate and assist veterans experiencing homelessness. Each of the ten participating communities created a veteran leadership team of community partners that serve veterans. These teams work together to identify the most holistic and timely resources for veterans, considering the unique needs of each veteran experiencing homelessness.
Operation Welcome Home also established veterans-by-name lists. These lists give key partners involved in ending veteran homelessness a solid understanding of the people (not just the numbers) that need to be housed at any given time. The list is used to determine where veterans are in the homeless system, who needs to be prioritized, what needs to be done to assist them, what barriers needs to be removed to get them into housing, and who is responsible for each person.
More needs to be done, but the state recognize that we cannot do it alone. Veteran homelessness is bigger than any one organization, and addressing it needs to continue to be a coordinated effort across Oregon, at the state, federal, and local level. This broad, multi-agency, multi-sector partnership is just the first step.
If you are a veteran experiencing homelessness, or if you know someone who is in need, please visit the Veteran Resource Map to find resources near you.