Ending Veteran Homelessness Strengthens the Union

I was moved to see Cynthia Dias, a formerly homeless veteran from Las Vegas, sitting in First Lady Michelle Obama visitors' box during tonight's State of the Union Address. To be given such a place of honor speaks to the bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill to end veteran homelessness in our country, and the power of providing our veterans who need it with the housing and support services that help them regain their lives.

Mrs. Obama deserves particular praise for her personal commitment on this issue. She and Dr. Jill Biden have spearheaded what is known as the Mayor's Challenge, harnessing the power of local elected officials and community organizations to give our veterans the attention and dignity they deserve. Mrs. Obama's tireless work has been complemented by what is known as Zero: 2016, a national campaign to realize the goal of ending chronic and veteran homelessness in communities throughout the country.

Ms. Dias is representative of many of our veterans who are now housed because the Mayor's Challenge and Zero: 2016 have assisted communities with resources as they strive to end homelessness among veterans. I am proud of dedicated members of CSH staff who, with our partners Community Solutions, AIR/HomeBase and ICF, have been lending expertise to City government and community groups in Las Vegas, which was recently designated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness as having effectively ended homelessness among veterans. This means the City has enough services and programs in place to house every homeless veteran.

But who Ms. Dias is today and what her story tells us about overcoming adversity is appropriately the focus of the attention this evening.

Ms. Dias served honorably as a nurse in the Vietnam War and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She believes her condition contributed to her homelessness and she's probably right. But even at her lowest ebb, she did not give up. Like the good soldier she is, she kept fighting to restore her life and she's now winning the battle.

Ms. Dias left a homeless shelter about a year ago and moved into Veteran's Village, a former motel in downtown Las Vegas renovated to provide 120+ units of housing for veterans. In addition to a nice apartment, she has access to health care, job training and counseling.

The founder of Veteran's Village, Arnold Stalk, tells anyone who listens how important it is to get veterans off the street first and into a stable environment. Once that happens, he says, it's easier to provide the health care and other support they'll need to live in a home permanently.

This same credo is embodied in supportive housing, where affordable rental apartments are used as a platform, providing the stability so individuals and families can feel secure to then pursue the life-changing care (medical and mental health treatments) that places them squarely on a road to recovery.

With the help of Mr. Stalk and Veteran's Village, Cynthia Dias earned the recognition she received tonight. There are so many other veterans like her. The best thing we can do as a nation grateful for their sacrifices is honor each of them by ensuring they have the housing and services they need to avoid the despair and trauma of homelessness.