BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Veterans groups in Western New York are marking a milestone -- ending homelessness among those who have served in our military.
For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies have been working with state and local officials to address veteran homelessness, and a year ago, First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off a challenge to put an end to it.
"Even one homeless veteran is a shame," Mrs. Obama said from the White House.
Now, Joan Spilman, director of H.U.D.'s Buffalo field office, says the 8-county Western New York region has hit what's called "functional zero."
That means this region is able to identify every homeless veteran and immediately offer that person affordable housing.
"We have the resources to help them find a place to stay," Spilman said. "Buffalo and this area is way ahead of the target."
While a veteran could still become homeless for myriad reasons, this is as close to ending veteran homelessness as possible, according to officials.
"It is an amazing step," said Celia O'Brien, president and chief operating officer for WNY Veterans Housing Coalition, Inc. "Hard to grasp."
O'Brien has worked for many years to address homelessness among veterans.
"If we find out that you're homeless or at risk of being homeless, that there are enough services in place and enough money in place ... and housing in place that we can get you some sort of housing and help that you need," she said of the milestone reached.
The Buffalo region isn't the first in the country to hit the "functional zero" mark. In fact, Binghamton was first in New York State, although the number of homeless veterans there is much smaller. However, Buffalo is well ahead of the target, and officials credited coordination.
"That's the secret," O'Brien said. "We all work together. No one works alone. So if you find a veteran who needs help, you can call anybody, and everybody gets together and helps those veterans."
Local groups include O'Brien's WNY Veterans Housing Coalition, the WNY Homeless Alliance and the Veterans One-stop Center of WNY, among many others. Spilman also credited the dedicated workers at the Buffalo office of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
In addition to the VA and H.U.D., the White House, and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) are part of this effort on the federal level.
Many stakeholders will get together on August 19 for the annual Veterans Stand Down event at Coca Cold Field from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Leaders of local veterans groups will officially mark the milestone of ending homelessness among vets in WNY.