Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios today announced that Middlesex County has been certified by three federal agencies as having effectively ended veterans’ homelessness in Middlesex County.
Joined by Freeholder Blanquita B. Valenti and Maria Maio-Messano, New Jersey Field Office Director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Rios announced that Middlesex County has the infrastructure and systems in place to ensure that any veteran experiencing homelessness will get the support they need to quickly obtain a permanent home.
“Those of you who know me, know that helping our veterans is a passion of mine, and this achievement in particular is so very close to my heart,” Freeholder Director Rios said. “This is the story of many hands and heads working together to achieve a common goal. I thank and commend our County staff and our community partners for sharing my passion and my vision for ending Veterans Homelessness. We did it. And we did it together.”
The County was certified as achieving “Functional Zero” (the technical term for effectively ending veterans’ homelessness) by HUD, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“Successful partnerships make all the difference when you are trying to serve those in need,” said Freeholder Valenti, chair of the County’s Community Services Committee. “I, too, wish to thank everyone who had a part in getting this done.”
In 2012 the Freeholder Board created a Veterans Housing Assistance Program (VHAP) in the County’s Office of Human Services to assist veterans and their families at risk of homelessness or experiencing homelessness. The Freeholders commit $100,000 each year to fund the program.
County staff works with the non-profit Coming Home of Middlesex County, two federally funded Supportive Services for Veteran Families programs (Soldier On and Community Hope), and a network of veterans organizations and Community and faith-based partners.
In addition to the County’s funds, the partners utilize voucher programs, including HUD VASH, which is administered through the VA.
"The VA New York/New Jersey Health Care Network is elated that Middlesex County has been recognized for having effectively ended Veteran homelessness,” said Dr. Joan E. McInerney, Network Director for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New York/New Jersey Veterans Integrated Service Network. “Middlesex County has demonstrated its commitment to meeting the needs of vulnerable Veterans, and VA is proud to be an integral part of the partnership network that will prevent Veterans from becoming homeless in the future."
So far, 300 veterans and their families have been assisted through this program. They have received funds to help with down payments and security deposits, rental assistance and other costs that had been obstacles to finding permanent homes.
In addition to the VHAP program, the Board passed a resolution in September of 2014 endorsing First Lady Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.
“Residents of Middlesex County and across New Jersey whose communities stepped up to the Mayors Challenge have a lot to be proud of,” said Maria Maio-Messano, HUD New Jersey Field Office Director. “Thanks to strong local leadership, major resource investments from HUD and the VA, and the work of countless partners throughout government and the nonprofit sectors, Veterans homelessness in New Jersey is down 20% over the last year.”
“We applaud all the partners in Middlesex County who joined forces to prove once again that we don’t have to accept homelessness in America,” said Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "When committed leaders work together to implement effective strategies, we can end homelessness in this country, not just for Veterans, but for everyone.”
Middlesex County embraces a Housing First philosophy in its efforts to end homelessness for veterans and other residents. That is to say, the County attempts to offer permanent housing in the first instance then add any social services that may be needed, rather than placing people in transitional housing with no support.
County staff works with their partners to do a coordinated assessment of each veteran to see what programs and services they may need.
“We look at the whole picture when helping a veteran,” Rios said. “In addition to housing, they may be unemployed or need training. We work with the Board of Social Services to see if they are eligible for any programs. Veterans receive first priority referral for job or training opportunities for which they are qualified at our One Stop Career Centers in New Brunswick and Perth Amboy.”
“It’s a team effort,” Rios added. “But when you think about what each of these men and women have done for each of us, you realize that helping them transition back home after serving our country is the least we can do.”
The VHAP has also been recognized as a Best Practice at the 25th annual National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Conference and a Best Practice at Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness Roundtable.