Coalition aims to end veteran homelessness |

Coalition aims to end veteran homelessness

Provider coalition aims to end veteran homelessness

In an effort to ameliorate the issue of homeless veterans, Nevada County has fostered a partnership with the Built for Zero initiative in an attempt to end homelessness among military veterans.

Built for Zero’s big picture goal is to bring together more than 80 communities nationwide to end homelessness. Numerous nonprofits, state, and federal agencies joined the national team to cooperate and improve data that identifies and mitigates veteran homelessness.

One aim is to reach a milestone known as functional zero.

Functional zero for veteran homelessness is accomplished when the county has so few veterans experiencing homelessness it is virtually none.

“We are in striking distance of functional zero and are excited to engage the broader community to get there,” said Ryan Gruver, Nevada County Health and Human Services director. “Initiatives like this are a great example of when we say, ‘better together.’”

One person at the forefront of the effort is David West, Nevada County Veterans Services officer. His office meets every week with the county’s homeless outreach team. They provide wrap-around services, physical and mental health, substance abuse and housing assistance in order to transition to a housed environment, West said.

People can connect to those services by calling 2-1-1 and accessing the Connecting Point 2-1-1 service. Homeless veterans can then be included on a coordinated entry list to get veterans benefits.

“But there’s not a lot of open availability right now,” said West. “The point of publicizing the campaign now is to bring awareness to our goals and solicit landlords.”

The objective is to find additional housing, West said. Each veteran is unique and it is necessary to tailor solutions to their needs.

“We’ll help get them their documents,” he said. “The most important is the DD-214, the discharge papers from the service.”

His office contacts veterans by phone and connects them with a virtual service by guiding them to the county website: Once on the list, service provider partners perform outreach to the veteran.

“If we can prove we can find housing for veterans, then we’ll start with other demographics within the homeless universe,” West added.


Brendan Phillips is the Nevada County housing resource manager. Since fiscal year 2019-20 he has collaborated with nonprofits AMI Housing, Connecting Point 2-1-1 and Volunteers of America.

“We make sure we have quality, real time data through our coordinated entry system that creates a ‘by name list’ to track everybody who calls up, and so we know through the list who the chronically homeless are and set up a plan tailor-made for the individual.”

What helps keep those lists up to date are the nonprofits assisting Phillips. Unfortunately, some veterans decline to engage with Housing and Community Services or the nonprofits.

“Evidence suggests when you have chronically homeless the cost to intervene for those individuals goes up exponentially,” Phillips said. “But not all people on the street are drug users. Some vets learn using drugs can be a mechanism to cope with the mental, physical and spiritual pain they endure by being homeless. So we learned strategies to improve outcomes.”

No two people have the same circumstances, Phillips said. His department’s personal touch can elicit best practices to resolve individual homeless challenges.

“Vets may not have had good experience with hospitals,” said Phillips. “Emergency rooms can deal with acute needs, but may not be able to assess the myriad of problems that contribute to homelessness in a walk-in environment.”

Phillips’ nonprofit partners — along with the Veterans Administration and Housing and Urban Development — also provide critical input to get veterans housed.

“It’s a new day in Nevada County,” said Phillips. “It could be any number of ideas. But we need to connect with landlords and property managers or anyone who has a housing recommendation to step up so we can mitigate the homeless situation.”

Nancy Baglietto, board president of the Nevada County continuum of Care, said her organization voted this month to support and endorse the county’s plan.

“Like many nonprofits, part of what makes this effort powerful is we’re all collaborating to end veteran homelessness.,” she said. “We see it as a critical element because the veterans served our country and they need our help. Built for Zero helps ensure that systems are in place that if a veteran experiences homelessness, it will be both a rare and brief occurrence.”

Another nonprofit, Volunteers for America, has been working with Built for Zero since 2017, said case manager supervisor Kia Phillips, no relation to Brendan Phillips.

“It’s like a revolving door,” said Kia Phillips. “We try to get veterans connected with resources such as VASH (Veteran’s Affairs Service Supportive Housing). It’s Section 8 for veterans, as quickly as possible.”

They also work to secure veterans’ unemployment claims, VA claims, supplemental security income and Social Security claims.

“We do whatever we can to supplement veterans’ income,” Kia Phillips said. “We have an employment team, Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program that works for Volunteers for America, and is funded by the Department of Labor.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at

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