By Jared Wolf
As of December 2015, Mercer County accomplished its mission to provide shelter for every homeless veteran seeking assistance. This makes it the latest community to respond to the nationwide challenge to end veteran homelessness that had been issued in 2010 by First Lady Michelle Obama. The city of Trenton, in conjunction with Mercer County, first addressed the issue in early 2015, with a joint effort from other veteran and non-profit organizations, which included Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness. The collaborators worked closely together to seek out each of the veterans in need. Many of these patrons came through the Rescue Mission of Trenton, as well as other organizations across Mercer County. The county and city has achieved what is being called “functional zero.” This is defined as having the processes and resources in place to immediately house a veteran. When the movement first began last year, there were 79 homeless veterans in the area. Through a systematic screening process and partnerships with Soldier On, Community Hope and other veteran programs and housing providers, the veterans were promptly afforded the services they required most. According to Mercer Alliance to End Homelessnese, of the 79 veterans who were offered assistance, only two remain without permanent housing. Housing is available to them, but they have declined for undisclosed reasons.
Mercer Is First NJ County To End Veteran Homelessness By Jared Wolf Kevin Bryson, a sophomore at The College of New Jersey and a yearly recipient of the ROTC scholarship, reflected on the recent feat, stating “I think that as a nation, our veterans can often be overlooked and underappreciated, and to see our county act so proactively for these people is truly something to be proud of.” Mercer County has long utilized a “housing first” strategy, which prioritizes putting those people in need into permanent housing, subsequently providing them with the resources to combat substance abuse, and offering them mental health counseling. Ultimately, the goal for these veterans is to be able to use their new housing as a tool for a better future. While Mercer County should be proud of this accomplishment, it is important to understand the plight of homeless veterans remains problematic nationwide. Someone who is not homeless today might be homeless tomorrow — homelessness is a fluid issue and must be treated as such. “We as a community owe it to these struggling veterans to provide the necessary care and aid so that they can transition back into society as smoothly as possible,” Bryson said. This is a great first step for Mercer County and for the state of New Jersey as a whole. Veterans should remain high-priority, as it is the only way to ensure that we, as a community, do not walk away from the goal that the First Lady set out for us to achieve.