Chris Coleman, mayor of St. Paul, Minn., announced Jan. 24 that the Twin Cities will enter a friendly competition with other cities in an effort to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015.

The mayors of Des Moines, Iowa, and Columbus, Ohio, will engage in a race against their Minnesota counterparts to house all homeless veterans.* The collaboration follows a similar challenge between the mayors of Phoenix and Salt Lake City last year regarding veterans who are chronically homeless. In December, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recognized Phoenix for having reached an effective level of zero veterans who were homeless for at least one year or had experienced four episodes of homelessness in the past year.

“I have to say I’m truly inspired by what Salt Lake City and Phoenix have done,” Coleman said at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington, D.C. The host city’s mayor, Vincent Gray, participated in a roundtable discussion with Coleman and other mayors from around the country to discuss hunger and homelessness in cities.

As Governing previously reported, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released survey findings in December 2013 that showed some of the largest cities in the country are seeing an increased demand for emergency food assistance and an uptick in overall homelessness. One silver lining in the report, however, was declining numbers of veteran homelessness, where many surveyed cities said they were receiving federal support and successfully housing veterans.

On any given night last year, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and their respective counties reported 183 homeless veterans, according to official point-in-time count figures published by HUD. In Des Moines and its surrounding county, the number was 130. In Columbus and its surrounding county, the number was 148. The point-in-time counts take place in January, meaning those figures are about a year old. The total veteran counts include a mix of homeless individuals sleeping at emergency shelters and those who sleep elsewhere.

“Friendly competition is a very powerful tool,” said Mark Johnston, the acting assistant secretary for community planning and development at HUD. More mayors should consider following in the footsteps of Salt Lake City and Phoenix, he said. “Friendly competition motivated those mayors.”

The Obama administration has a goal of ending veteran homelessness across the country by 2015. Overall homelessness among veterans in the United States declined by about 24 percent between 2010 and 2013, according to a November 2013 report released by HUD. Counts conducted in communities across the country last year found that 57,849 American veterans were homeless in 2013.

*Clarification: The goal set by city leaders in Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio encompasses all homeless veterans, not just those who meet the federal definition for chronic homelessness.