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Letters: End homelessness of our veterans

IF VETERANS DAY is about honoring the men and women who have bravely served our country, why is it that tens of thousands of them are left to trudge from shelters to street corners with no place to call home?

IF VETERANS DAY is about honoring the men and women who have bravely served our country, why is it that tens of thousands of them are left to trudge from shelters to street corners with no place to call home?

Veterans suffer from disproportionately high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and other crippling health conditions. Those without family and social-support networks often find it difficult to hold a job and pay the rent. As a result, in Philadelphia alone, there are more than 1,400 veterans living on the streets, with thousands more at risk of falling through the cracks of the system, according to data just released from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It's tragic and unnecessary.

Thankfully, since 2010 when the White House introduced a five-year strategic plan to end veterans' homelessness, we've seen a 33 percent decline in the number of homeless veterans. Nearly 25,000 have been able to get the help they need - thanks in part to supportive-housing developments that offer social services focused on their particular needs.

That's the good news. The bad news? Another 1.4 million veterans are still at risk of homelessness because of poverty and other challenges. That means connecting government, veterans support groups, businesses, and nonprofits to help stretch limited taxpayer dollars.

A great example of this kind of comprehensive, cross-sector collaboration is the Philanthropy-Joining Forces Impact Pledge, introduced earlier this year by first lady Michelle Obama. It includes more than $170 million in funding from foundations and corporations to provide critical services to veterans and their families. When combined with effective tools, like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, that attract billions of dollars in private capital for affordable housing all across the country, even greater progress is possible.

In Pennsylvania, the Housing Credit has helped finance 82,000 affordable homes for families, seniors and special-needs populations, and also generated nearly $9 billion in local income, $3.5 billion in tax revenues and more than 92,000 jobs.

The just-completed Hardy Williams Veterans Center, in Southwest Philadelphia, illustrates how the pieces and partners come together. Developed by the nonprofit HELP USA, it offers 61 affordable apartments to aging homeless veterans while also providing on-site social services. It's the kind of development that reflects what research has long been telling us: When veterans and other vulnerable people gain access to quality housing and such services as counseling programs, employment training and nutrition-assistance programs, they can reclaim their health and independence. Indeed, it's an approach that is critical for keeping at-risk and homeless veterans off the streets.

After all the parades and speeches are done today, remember that. If we really want to pay tribute to those who have served, we have to first make sure every veteran has a decent place to live and the chance to live a healthy, productive life.

Debbie Burkart

Local Initiatives Support Corporation

Ali Solis

Enterprise Community Partners

Dissing charter dissing The Daily News editorial on charter schools ("Frankencharters") includes scary Halloween analogies but does a disservice to genuine efforts to improve education in Philadelphia. Referring to charter schools as "fiscal monsters" flatly ignores that charters spend and receive fewer dollars per student than district schools.

Despite significantly less funding, Philadelphia charters outperformed district schools on the most recent State Performance Profile. Charters actually operate with maximum accountability, since poor academic performance or financial mismanagement will result in closure - a fate that rarely, if ever, befalls district schools. Will the Daily News similarly refer to failing district-run schools as "monsters" that need to be "reined in" when the next cheating scandal occurs?

It should come as no surprise that charters receive their funding from school districts, since charters are public schools, too. That so many families have opted for charters reflect their success - it illustrates the overwhelming demand for expanding school choice.

Continued oversight and transparency is an appropriate policy goal for charter and district-run schools alike - especially in light of the closure of Walter Palmer, which is indeed devastating to the students and families involved. But the unique circumstances surrounding Walter Palmer do not justify demonizing largely successful charters citywide.

The 34,000 students currently languishing on charter waiting lists illustrate the urgent nature of school reform. Denying them more educational options - just to prop up the failing status quo - does not serve the best interests of Philadelphia.

James Paul

Commonwealth Foundation,