At the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on the Southbank of Jacksonville, more than 100 people were getting settled at round tables, Thursday.
It was day one of the action camp called: ZERO 2016, an intense two-day event aimed at ending veteran homelessness.
Jacksonville is one of about 70 communities across the country participating in what are called action camps.
The goal is to get the homeless veteran population down to “functional zero” by December.
“Functional zero means we will get homelessness for veterans down to such a low level that we will be able to identify and assist any veteran household that has a housing crisis within 30 days,” said Dawn Gilman, CEO of Changing Homelessness in Jacksonville.
She says after veterans are housed, the plan is to get chronically homeless people under roofs by 2017. People in that category often have disabilities or mental illness.
“I think we should be clear that our goal is to end homelessness, period, starting with veterans,” Gilman said.
“The work that we do with veterans will help model what we can do with other groups to make sure that we’re working as efficiently and effectively with the resources that are available to us.”
Linda Kaufman, National Movement Manager for Community Solutions, is leading the two-day camp. She says by Friday night, people will have a plan for reaching the goals.
“Use this theory of change that says, know where you’re going, here’s what’ll get you there,” Kaufman said. “Then experiment. Just do continuous quality improvement. Try it. If it works, expand it. If it doesn’t, you haven’t lost anything because you’ve done it quickly.”
She says a lot communities focus on streamlining application processes, getting landlords on board and tracking and identifying homeless people.
And Kaufman says it’s important for the community to be on board.
“If you’re not convinced that it’s a moral issue, and it’s the right thing to do, then look at it from a financial issue,” Kaufman said. “It’s about $20,000 a year less expensive to have someone in housing in Jacksonville than it is to leave them on the street.”
She says that’s because homeless people are often in and out of hospitals and jails.
That’s why Dawn Gilman with Changing Homelessness says she’s happy that representatives from the Jacksonville Sheriffs Office, Florida Blue and Baptist Health are at the action camp.
She says when you take someone off the street, everything about their life changes.
“When you take that person with these chronic conditions and you put them in a home, you’ve covered food, clothing and shelter and most importantly safety,” Gilman said. “Once they are in that place for sometimes a very short amount of time, they are able to make the choice to make their lives even better.”
While Jacksonville is making progress toward housing its homeless veterans, the number of children living homeless in the city is on the rise.