County Council joins effort to end veteran homelessness

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County leaders are saluting America’s military veterans, committing to a unified call to action effort to end veteran homelessness unveiled last year by First Lady Michelle Obama.

County Council at its June 2 meeting unanimously agreed to have Sussex County join forces with hundreds of mayors, governors and county and city officials in the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

“The goal is eliminate veteran homelessness in 2015,” said Brad Whaley, Sussex County Community Development Director.

This initiative was announced by First Lady Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden in a concerted effort combining forces from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and U.S Interagency Council on Homelessness, National League of Cities and the state and local governments.

“There were also many non-governmental veteran support groups at every level that are supporting this initiative,” said Mr. Whaley.

In Sussex County, the Town of Georgetown and City of Seaford have come on board in support, as have Wilmington, Dover, Newark, New Castle County, Kent County and Gov. Jack Markell on behalf of the State of Delaware, said Brandy Nauman, Housing Coordinator and Fair Housing Compliance Officer for Sussex County.

“We have no intention of re-creating the wheel,” said Ms. Nauman. “Significant efforts are already in place throughout the state to ensure the success of the initiative here in Delaware. We will work with Seaford and Georgetown to establish a Sussex county working group and join forces with the existing statewide working group.”

Sometime this summer the plan is to bring awareness to the campaign and reach out to potential stakeholders.

Georgetown Mayor Bill West said there are plans “to have like a summit of all of the towns at Del Tech and have the agencies that can benefit and help us with this project to be there – so we get a game-plan together on how we all can work together to get these homeless vets a place to live.”

“Our role will be to help facilitate the coordination of existing resources so that our local homeless veterans get housing as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Ms. Nauman said. “We have been assured by our federal and state partners that the resources in Delaware … are sufficient for the population we will be serving.”

“Homelessness in America is a societal concern that touches all walks of life, including veteran who served their country faithfully and honorably,” said County Administrator Todd Lawson.

In late May, the Homeless Planning Council of Delaware released their findings from the 2015 “point in time survey” taken annually on one night in January, Ms. Nauman said.

That survey determined 950 people experienced homelessness in Delaware, including adults and children.

“Volunteers count sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals throughout the state. It is only one night; only a snapshot of the Delaware homelessness population,” said Ms. Nauman. “Of the 950, there were 102 people experiencing homelessness that identified as having served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Again this is probably not the true count of our homeless veterans but it does provide a goal for jurisdictions to work toward.”

In response to an inquiry from County Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, Ms. Nauman did not have the breakdown on how many homeless veterans were in Sussex County.

Mayor West said he was informed the survey revealed there were 14 homeless vets in the Georgetown area, some in shelters.

County Councilman Sam Wilson, R-Georgetown, believes combat veterans who fought on the front lines should have top priority.

“In other words there is a difference between those that served on the home-front and those that served on the front line,” Mr. Wilson said. “I would think that those that served on the front lines – who lost their limbs, those kinds of things – are top priority. I am a veteran … I don’t feel I deserve the same treatment as those that served on the front line.”

“We are actually hoping to complexly end veterans’ homelessness, which will take in all levels,” said Mr. Whaley. “What seems to happen is that sometimes people may fall between the cracks between one agency and another. This is to bring everybody together so that doesn’t happen.”

“Communication is a wonderful thing,” Mayor West said. “I think the ultimate goal is to not only keep them from being homeless but giving them the opportunity to have their own home. If we can make things affordable and help them get on their feet to do I think this a great opportunity. There are some people that need help. And I think we as a community need to step forward and help our vets who have helped us. They did their service for us; now it’s our turn to try to give back.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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