When John Meier connects with veterans who are living in their car or on the street, he is reminded how vulnerable many of us are to homelessness. It wasn’t so long ago that he experienced it himself.
But during that period of darkness, he also witnessed something else: the power of what can happen when a community comes together to end homelessness. With the support of some short-term rental assistance, he was able to find a place to call home.
Since then, he has dedicated himself to creating a community where all veterans can rely on a support system that ends homelessness.
In 2019, Abilene became the first community in Texas to functionally end veteran homelessness, making veteran homelessness rare overall and brief when it occurs. John helped to lead those efforts as a local leader participating in Built for Zero, a national movement of communities working to measurably end homelessness.
“There’s this period of darkness, and then there’s a period of light,” he said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for all of our veterans who are experiencing homelessness.”
“There’s this period of darkness, and then there’s a period of light. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for all of our veterans who are experiencing homelessness.”
Reaching functional zero in Abilene, Texas — twice
Meier knows that in order to end homelessness, you must look at it not as a problem of individuals, but of systems.
“Commonly, homelessness is looked at the fault of those that are experiencing homelessness,” Meier said. “And I think that once we really start looking at homelessness, we see that there are problems within our society that have really placed so much stress on our veterans experiencing homelessness.
There are minimal opportunities for our veterans experiencing homeless to have any shortfalls in their own support systems.”
That’s where the power of community comes in. In Abilene, Meier and other local leaders have worked to create a support system that spans the entire community, and leaves no veteran behind.
To make sure of it, they have developed a system that has taken anonymity out of homelessness. They know every veteran experiencing homelessness by name, and in real time.
“The solution is really about strengthening a support system that can quickly identify our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness and quickly find solutions that will end their homelessness,” he said.
Through these efforts, Abilene has created a new reality where homelessness is never inevitable or inescapable for a veteran. But ending homelessness is not crossing a finish line. Through persistence and determination, Abilene has continued to maintain this system of support for its veterans while making progress toward functionally ending homelessness for all.
In November, the community announced it had functionally ended chronic homelessness, which refers to long-lasting or recurring homelessness among people experiencing a disability.
“This accomplishment belongs to no individual, to no organization, but rather to the people and community of Abilene,” said Mayor Anthony Williams. “[It belongs] to the hope that our small town has fostered, and to the everyday heroes that our community has raised up.”