The La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness crushed its goal of finding housing for and settling in a dozen homeless veterans by Christmas: The 12th signed a lease and moved in Thursday.

Collaborative chairwoman Kim Cable credits not only group members but also the generous response of the community for being able to achieve the goal early.

“As a team of people, this group has worked very hard to find resources for the veterans,” said Cable, who also is the collaborative’s spokeswoman. “Quite a few landlords have come on board, and the community has had a fantastic response.

“That combination led to the success,” she said.

The collaborative, which formed toward the end of the summer after months of preparation, set a goal Sept. 15 to find 15 rental units by Veterans Day for homeless veterans and have the 12 who had been identified at that time settled in by Christmas. Although the group missed the Veterans Day deadline to find 15 units a bit, it blew by the settling-in process.

“We have the good fortune of having people in the community who are generous,” Cable said, noting in particular the flow of donations of furniture, other necessities and supplies for “move-in kits” to help the veterans set up housekeeping.

Financial resources to help place the veterans came from HUD-VASH, which stands for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program and provides vouchers for homeless veterans; the Veterans Assistance Foundation’s Rapid Re-Housing program; Catholic Charities’ Rapid Rehousing Rental Assistance program, and two of Couleecap’s housing programs, Cable said.

The collaborative’s initiative includes support services for veterans who might need help organizing themselves financially, finding jobs and meeting other needs. Similar services will be available to other homeless individuals and families after the collaborative is satisfied that it has eliminated homelessness among veterans and moves on to find quarters for the general homeless population.

Those services are comforting for landlords, knowing that their tenants have a safety net and easing their decision to participate.

“Once the landlords had that information about the initiative, there was quite a response,” Cable said.

Other homeless veterans have been identified since the collaborative launched, so work remains to get them moved into apartments, Cable said. The goal is to reach what homeless advocates refer to as “functional zero,” meaning that more housing remains available than the number of homeless, as that tally ebbs and flows. Ideally, those who are homeless can be placed within 30 days.

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have been one of the main driving forces for the collaborative, which national housing consultant Erin Healy of New York helped organize through several visits to La Crosse and presentations that began in March. Gundersen Health System’s new Population Health and Strategy Department sponsored Healy’s visits and is covering her continuing role as a consultant.

The collaborative includes two teams — a design team to set pie-in-sky goals and a leadership team to apply practical boundaries at the same time it strives to achieve those goals. The teams include representatives of public, private and religious institutions, as well as businesses and other institutions.

Healy was one of the leaders of the national 100,000 Homes Project that mobilized groups in dozens of cities in its successful effort to place 105,850 formerly homeless people, including 31,171 veterans, nationwide between 2010 and 2014.

A tough taskmaster, Healy challenged the collaborative to establish tight deadlines as they set goals, such as the 100 days for the 12 veterans.

Although local agencies were making strides to attack homelessness, some of their efforts were parallel rather than cooperative. Healy’s guidance helped them identify duplications and streamline their efforts.

“Obviously, Erin brings her expertise and experience to our group, so we were able to identify weaknesses,” Cable said.

“She helps keep us on track and focused. I don’t think we would be where we are if she hadn’t been here,” she said. “Bringing the community around homelessness is crucial, and we have been engaging the community.

“We are now having the community wrapping their arms around this issue,” Cable said.

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Reporter

Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

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