The first step in solving any problem is to understand it clearly.
That's why on Monday night I and 3,000 other New Yorkers in the cold to comb the streets and count our homeless population. This annual Point-In-Time Count -- a nationwide effort -- creates a snapshot of how many men, women, children, veterans, families and teenagers live in our homeless shelters and on our streets. In New York, we call it the HOPE Survey.
Ending homelessness is a federal priority, and daunting as that goal may seem, there are encouraging milestones in sight. The Mayors Challenge -- our initiative to end veterans homelessness -- has seen a success. In New York City, there has been a 65 percent reduction in the number of homeless veterans, even as the lack of affordable housing drove up homeless numbers citywide. That 65 percent makes New York City a national leader on the issue, and Mayor Bill de Blasio committed to maintaining that position with a pledge to house every one of New York City's veterans by the end of 2015 in his recent State of the City speech.
Our neighbors upstate and on Long Island are also taking the challenge seriously. The City of Binghamton was the first nationwide to develop and begin rolling out a plan to house every one of its veterans. The legislature of Suffolk County recently adopted a bipartisan series of laws prohibiting housing and employment discrimination against veterans, added county staff positions dedicated to veterans benefits, and vowed to clear the way for development of veterans housing on county land. These stories are threads in a tapestry of national progress, evidenced by a 33 percent drop in veterans homelessness nationwide since 2010.
This success in reducing veterans homelessness gives us confidence that the long-presumed intractable problem of homelessness can indeed be solved with the right set of tools and strategies. Today we understand that homeless individuals need housing first, and that the stability housing provides the foundation to make other interventions take hold. The "Housing First" model has not only proven effective, but it also saves millions in taxpayer money by reducing the need for costly public interventions down the road like emergency room visits, police services and incarceration.
But we still have a long way to go. Last year's New York City Point-in-Time Count found about 67,000 homeless persons in New York City, a 34 percent increase from 2013. In 2015, as we look to ending veterans homelessness, we need to generate a similar level of visibility, focus and resource allocation to address the broader homeless population.
Two weeks ago, HUD announced a $100 million funding commitment to more than 200 programs throughout New York City to eliminate homelessness. With the continued efforts of federal, state, and local partners, and the dedication of volunteers like those who take to the streets to count we believe that every American will have a safe place to live by 2020.
Holly Leicht is regional administrator for New York and New Jersey for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.