This past week, I went to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ conference here in Washington, D.C. at the Grand Hyatt. Attending this conference gave me a chance to gain as broad a base of knowledge on veteran homelessness as I could get anywhere.
The three days were divided into two main parts:
- the first day consisted of an introductory session followed by a public policy forum;
- the remaining two days mostly consisted of individual sessions concerning specific aspects of veteran homelessness.
The first day started with an opening session. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki all gave remarks during the opening session. Colonel David Sutherland from the Department of Defense and Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary of Veterans’ Employment and Training Service also followed suit.
The common themes that kept recurring from all of them were a call for collaboration, both at the national level and at the local level. Secretary Donovan put it perfectly when he said that, “too often we consider ourselves specialists.”
My favorite part of the entire conference was the public policy forum. Pete Dougherty and Vince Kane from the VA, Gordon Burke from Labor, Anthony Love from USICH, and Mark Johnston from HUD all sat on the forum and took questions. For someone like me (I’ve always been attracted to the policy side of government), it was fascinating to watch the people who create and oversee programs interacting with the people who run these programs down on the level where they are put into use.
Moreover, as someone who will be in the Army in a couple years and serve with soldiers who could potentially face homelessness, it feels great to know that people care and are trying to help at every level.
On the second day, I heard Emily Button from US VETS speak about a permanent housing facility she runs around DC.
Her facility has a unique feature: veterans there live in two bedroom apartment units with a roommate to utilize the idea of a “battle buddy”; your “battle buddy” watches out for you while you watch out for them. I thought this was great because it takes a veteran back to the basic roots of what they’re taught in the military, especially at a time of their lives when they’re most vulnerable and need someone.
After the three days, I can say that I have been completely immersed in what there is to know about veteran homelessness. It was great meeting so many people who have devoted their lives to helping and serving those that have put everything on the line for us and for our country.