Homelessness is a complex condition. About 45 percent of homeless veterans suffer from mental health illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder. About 70 percent of homeless veterans suffer from substance abuse and addiction issues. Many homeless veterans suffer from weak social networks due to problems readjusting to civilian life. For some veterans, unemployment and readjustment to civilian life can lead to homelessness. This is especially true for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are trying to support young families. For other veterans, physical and mental health issues and disabilities interfere with job retention. To date, approximately 570 homeless veterans in Baltimore City have sought assistance finding housing in 2015. As of July 7, 378 veterans — or 66 percent of our goal — have found housing as a result of the combined efforts of the VA Maryland Health Care System and Baltimore City.

Putting an end to veteran homelessness is a priority for the VA Maryland Health Care System and Baltimore City. That's why we have joined forces to answer Michelle Obama's Mayors Challenge to End Homelessness among veterans by the end of 2015. By combining our resources, we know that we can have a significant impact.


Already our collaboration is yielding positive results. Our local and federal partnership has bridged the technology gap so that both federal and city employees can access to the most up-to-date information, streamlining the process of identifying veterans entering Baltimore City shelters or homeless programs. Veterans are then quickly linked to supportive services. This means that there is no "wrong door" for a veteran because every door he or she enters will lead to help. Through our collaboration, we can help veterans find adequate housing in a variety of neighborhoods while also working toward preventing veteran homelessness.

Through the evidence-based "Housing First Model," we first find stable housing for a homeless veterans, then move on to connecting them with services to address any mental, physical or substance use issues. Case managers work with the veterans to address issues of unemployment, poor credit and rental history, legal roadblocks and lack of family support. Additionally, VA has already established collaborations with other federal agencies and initiatives, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides housing vouchers for homeless veterans. Baltimore City and the VA Maryland Health Care System are also collaborating with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and Joining Forces, a White House initiative calling all Americans to rally around service members, veterans and their families.

To truly make this a reality, we need the entire community to work with us, and everyone can play a part. Making veteran homelessness rare and brief — the goal of our collaboration — requires a long-term commitment from all community stakeholders, including Baltimore's faith-based organizations, businesses and residents. The private sector can also play a key role in supporting the creation of permanent supportive housing for veterans.

Here's how:

If you are a landlord, list your property with us. We have dozens of veterans with housing vouchers who are waiting to be matched to community-minded landlords with quality properties. Share your contact information and one of our housing coordinators will be in touch when a veteran's need matches your available property.

Citizens can also organize a "Household Items Collection Drive." Many veterans who are placed into housing lack the most basic household essentials. You can help make a house a home by getting together with your colleagues, neighbors, family and friends to collect household items and create "Move-In Kits" that include small pots and pans, flatware, bowls, plates, cups, cooking utensils, dish towels, bath towels and washcloths, dish soap and sponges, paper goods, laundry detergent and cleaning supplies.

What better way to thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice than by extending them a supportive hand when they need it the most? Working together, federal and local agencies and community partners can all make homelessness among veterans rare and brief.

For more information on how you can invest in Baltimore's veterans, please visit bsun.md/mayorschallenge.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is mayor of the City of Baltimore; her email is mayor@baltimorecity.gov. Dr. Adam M. Robinson Jr. is the acting director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. He can be reached at vamhcspublicrelations@va.gov.