This city might have discovered how to end homelessness. And it's sharing the secret.

Of the nearly 600,000 people who experience homelessness on any given night in the United States, more than 40,000 are veterans.

But in the city of Riverside, California, that number has dropped to something known as "functional zero."

The city has maintained functional zero — meaning the number of people experiencing homelessness is less than the monthly housing placement rate — since 2016.


Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey says that as a veteran himself, he had to try to solve this problem. "Some of my own neighbors have become homeless, and they've been erased from society and ended up dying because of homelessness," he says.

Photo via Chris Murphy/Unsplash.

Bailey joined 77 mayors, four governors, and four county officials from across the country in committing to end veteran homelessness.

The movement is a part of former first lady Michelle Obama's program "Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness," an extension of the 2010 program Opening Doors. Opening Doors combined the use of federal resources and local leadership to help communities put a plan in place to ensure homelessness is prevented whenever possible. Or if it can't be prevented, it is a brief, and non-recurring experience.

Bailey attributes Riverside's success to the city's Housing First Policy.

"You can't end homelessness without housing," says Bailey. "Becoming homeless is a vicious cycle our neighbors without homes end up in, and the sooner we can take them out of that cycle the better, the sooner we can place them into housing, the better."

It all starts with the city's Homeless Outreach Team, who first gets to know people who are homeless and help them feel like they are part of the community.

The team assesses health care needs, learns about their family, and builds a relationship of trust with each individual until they are ready to accept help in finding housing.

The policy uses a combination of local, state, and federal resources to create enough affordable housing options to meet the amount of unsheltered persons living within city limits, along with wrap-around support services put in place to help those who battle with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Bailey says the first step is helping homeless veterans take advantage of programs that were already put in place through the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This means taking additional steps that often go overlooked, such as helping veterans obtain valid IDs and convincing landlords and accept housing vouchers. Bailey says the city even offers some landlords annual stipends of up to $250 to cover the cost of any repairs housing units may need.

Photo courtesy of Lechenie Narkomanii.

And the policy seems to be working.

Since the city first identified 80 veterans who were homeless in early 2016, Riverside has consistently maintained its veteran homeless population of functional zero.

"Now that we have this model, we can take it to the rest of the population," says Bailey. "They're all human beings, and we're all neighbors here in Riverside."

Now that veteran homelessness has been greatly reduced, the city is focusing on high school and college students without homes.

Riverside is home to thousands of high school and college students, many of whom have no place to live. Bailey says the city is working with schools to determine which students are currently homeless and create housing projects in areas of need, but with the stigma attached, identifying students in need is sometimes a difficult process.

Now that a potential solution to aiding people who are homeless seems to be working in Riverside, city officials are working with other regional leaders to spread their success to neighboring communities. The Western Riverside Council of Governments is made up of 18 cities, and members of WRCOG are optimistic that what works in Riverside can work in their communities as well.

"It's important for us to work on this together," says Bailey. There's no city limits to homelessness.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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