Archive for November, 2011

17th November
written by Sam Batko

So far this week, we’ve learned about what is known about the scope of youth homelessness and some of the serious dangers youth face while homelessNow, we are going to move on to some of the things we know can end youth homelessness.

Homelessness among youth is ended the same way overall homelessness is ended—with housing.  Housing for youth, however, may look a little different than housing for adults experiencing homelessness.

Some quick facts: The majority of youth who runaway return home to their families quickly.  Some youth return home but it takes a little longer.   While this process (called reunification) represents a positive housing solution for these youth and should be expedited, youth need a safe place to live and attend school in the interim.  Emergency shelters, basic centers, and sometimes host homes provide this safe, intermediate housing solution.

Then there are those young people who are unable to be reunified with family. For them, we need longer-term housing solutions.  These come in a variety of models:

  • Host Homes. Host homes provide youth with caring adults in a home environment.  The families that provide host homes can be volunteers or receive subsidies for taking in a homeless youth.  Host homes are a particularly viable, low-cost option for younger youth who are not able or ready to rent apartments on their own.
  • Rapid re-housing. Rapid re-housing quickly places a youth in an apartment (sometimes with a roommate) and provides rental assistance for a limited time to allow the youth to stabilize in housing, possibly finish high school or receive a GED, and obtain gainful employment.  Many communities used resources from the stimulus-funded Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) to jump start rapid re-housing for youth and have seen great success.
  • Transitional Housing or Transitional Living. Transitional housing or transitional living programs are also time-limited programs (generally there’s an 18 months to 2 year maximum).  These programs also come in a variety of models from congregate group homes to scattered site apartments where youth hold a lease in their own names and are responsible for some portion of the rent.
  • Permanent Supportive Housing. For some older youth who have been homeless for a long period of time or repeatedly AND have a documented disability, permanent supportive housing (PSH) is a housing model that will provide them with permanent housing and the long-term supportive services they need.  PSH has proven to be cost- efficient for communities when targeted toward this chronically homeless demographic.

Regardless of the length of time that a youth needs housing or services, all housing programs serving youth should be accessible to all youth. Specifically, youth housing programs should use mechanisms to screen youth into their programs and not out of their programs. Such practice has denied services to youth with mental health and /or substance abuse issues.

Similarly, programs – and especially programs providing longer-term housing – should try their best not to involuntarily exit youth from their programs. As young and developing people, youth often make mistakes (disobey the rules of the, drink or use drugs, engage in risky behaviors, etc.) which could  jeopardize their standing in housing programs. While such incidences are important and should be addressed, programs serving youth should be attuned to the development needs of youth and never discharge a young person to homelessness..

More questions? For more information on solutions to youth homelessness, please visit the Alliance website.

Photo courtesy of the Phoenix House Youth Shelter.

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16th November
written by Sharon McDonald

Local reporters are now focusing on a story from Northern Virginia about a young 12 year old runaway who was provided food and shelter by a gang who then prostituted her repeatedly.  While this story is making headlines locally, it is unfortunately not an isolated incident.  The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is all too common among unaccompanied homeless young girls and boys.

Sexually exploiting children often doesn’t require violence, it involves recruitment.   It can begin in what appears to be a nurturing relationship or in one that helps the child meet his or her needs. It also includes “survival sex” – a term that refers to homeless children and youth exchanging sex for a place to stay or money to meet their basic needs.  It may appear that children and youth are making their own choices to engage in survival sex, but it is just another form of commercial sexual exploitation.

Why are runaway and homeless youth so vulnerable to being commercially sexually exploited?

  • They are often physically vulnerable because they lack a safe place to stay,
  • They are in desperate need of meeting their basic needs
  • They are often emotionally vulnerable and in crisis

Across the nation, there is a dire shortage of shelter space to accommodate unaccompanied homeless children and youth safely.  The lack of an adequate emergency crisis response to runaway and homeless children and youth increases their vulnerability to being victimized. There even appears to be a dearth of political will to change this.

There are clear steps we can take to make progress in ending youth homelessness and their vulnerability to exploitation:

  • First, localities must take purposeful action to count children and youth residing on the streets as part of a local Point-In-Time (PIT) effort or in a separate effort.    Data from programs serving homeless youth should be included in the local Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). Understanding the nuances and scale of youth homelessness is necessary to ensure appropriate interventions are developed to meet their needs.
  • Second, we need to establish a rapid response to youth homelessness.  Children and youth who have run away need help to safely reunify with family or connect to other caring adults in their lives. Those who cannot safely reunify with family or friends should be quickly connected to longer-term programs that provide housing and supportive services.
  • Third, we need to ensure that the programs we establish to serve youth are accessible to all youth.   We need to be very careful to establish program rules and requirements that screen in – and not screen out – those at greatest risk of long-term homelessness, including  youth dealing with substance abuse and mental health disabilities who may be at greater risk of CSEC.  It is not acceptable to allow children and youth to remain on the streets until they are “ready” to receive or comply with services.

It is not a climate where calls to expand services are warmly welcomed but runaway children and youth are in danger and cannot, and should not, be asked to wait for a better fiscal environment.  Action is needed now to improve our ability to effectively and rapidly respond to youth in need, improve our data, and demand more from our public partners to protect and serve vulnerable children and youth.

For more information on youth homelessness, please visit the Alliance website.

Photo courtesy of squidoo.

15th November
written by Catherine An

This morning, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released new interim regulations for the Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program. Additional fiscal year 2011 ESG allocations (in the amount of $90 million) and the final regulation on the definitions of homelessness were also published.

The new ESG regulations reflect priorities reflected in the HEARTH Act, a bill passed in 2009 intended to modernize and streamline HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs.

The ESG program expands upon the Emergency Shelter Grant, adding homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing as eligible activities under the new Emergency Solutions Grant. The name change, as the HUD points out, is reflective of the new priorities of the program. In addition to  providing street outreach and shelter services, communities can use ESG to fund rapid re-housing and expand homelessness prevention activities. HUD explicitly states their new priorities in developing ESG regulations:

-       Broaden existing emergency shelter and homelessness prevention activities;
-       Emphasize rapid re-housing;
-       Help people quickly regain stability in permanent housing after experiencing a housing crisis and/or homelessness.

Other priorities identified by HUD for the new ESG regulations include enhancing alignment of ESG regulations with and implementing lessons learned from HPRP. HUD is also emphasizing the importance of centralized and coordinated assessment.

In a webinar HUD hosted about the new regulations (a repeat webinar about the regulations is slated for Thursday, Nov. 17), the agency outlined the components of the ESG program:

-       Street outreach
-       Emergency shelter
-       Homelessness prevention
-       Rapid Re-housing
-       Homelessness Management Information System
-       Administration

Moving forward, recipients of ESG resources are encouraged to review regulations and coordinate and consult with their CoC to ensure that the new program requirements are met.

The Alliance will host a webinar on Tuesday, November 29 at 1 pm ET to review the regulations. During this webinar, presenters will summarize the interim regulation and its impacts, as well as lessons learned from the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) that can be applied to the new ESG program.

The Alliance will continue to publish explanation and analysis of the new regulations in the following weeks. Please visit the Alliance website regularly for updates and/or sign up for the Alliance newsletter.

Also new: Late last night, the final fiscal year (FY) 2012 funding bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was made public. The bill, H.R. 2112, represents a compromise between the House and Senate versions. H.R. 2112 would also fund the Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Commerce, and Justice, and related agencies. The legislation would cut about $3.8 billion overall from HUD programs, though it does maintain level funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants. We’ll talk about this more on Thursday when Alliance VP [and blog favorite] Steve Berg will have an analysis of the overall bill and its potential impact on homeless assistance programs and people experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness.

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14th November
written by Andre Wade

November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month and in recognition of this special time and unique problem, we thought we’d read you in on what’s known so far.

  • 1.6 million youth under the age of 18 runaway or are thrown away each year.  An estimated 1.3 million of those youth return home within one week.  For the remaining, more intensive supports and longer term housing options are needed.
  • The demographics of runaway and homeless youth tend to be representative of the community they live in, however, there is some evidence that African-American youth are over-represented in the runaway population.
  • Additionally, it has been estimated that, in some cities, up to 40 percent of the homeless youth population identify as LGBTQ.

Like the population, the causes of youth homelessness are also varied. Often, however they include family conflict that can involve physical and sexual abuse by a parent or guardian, financial inability to care for a youth, parental drug and alcohol abuse, or a rejection due to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Luckily, youth homelessness – like all homelessness – is a problem that can be solved.

Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness sets out a goal to end youth homelessness by the year 2020; if we’re going to do that, we’re going to have to start working together right now. The road ahead is long and windy but everyday, collectively, we move the needle with new research, new champions in Congress, and hardworking advocates and providers ensuring that runaway and homeless youth are given opportunities to be connected to caring adults, resources and housing.

In solidarity with National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, the Alliance will blog about the scope of youth homelessness, strategies to combat the problem, federal policies, and recommended improvements as well as other information and anecdotes to help to raise awareness of ways to end homelessness for this vulnerable population.

11th November
written by Elizabeth Doherty

A special thanks to all our blog readers who work for the federal government; as federal employees, you participate in the Combined Federal Campaign, the world’s largest workplace giving program.  Thank you for your generosity!

Last year federal workers pledged over $49,000 to support the National Alliance to End Homelessness. We are very grateful for these contributions!  Because of your generosity, the Alliance was able to expand our work on federal policy, respond to pressing research needs, and provide assistance to communities in over 25 states across the country.

As many of you know, it is that time of year again and the 2011 Combined Federal Campaign season is in full swing.  As such, I would like to thank you for your past support and encourage you to support the Alliance (#10022) in this year’s campaign.  The Alliance is participating under the Human Care Charities of America Federation. Look for our listing, “Homelessness, National Alliance to End,” #10022 in your CFC pledge book and on your local campaign website.

You may also see me, Elizabeth Doherty, at your upcoming CFC Fair!  On Tuesday, Nov. 15, I will be at the Pentagon from 1 – 3 p.m.

For more information about giving to the Alliance or to make a donation, you can also visit our giving webpages.

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11th November
written by Steve Berg

Homelessness among veterans is more common than among other Americans, despite the strong sense of goodwill that exists across the country toward people who have served in the armed forces, and despite the many resources the federal government, rightfully, commits to taking care of veterans in need.  This is perhaps the most frustrating single piece of the homelessness problem – the political will is there, the know-how is there, and the resources are there for the asking – and yet the problem of veterans homelessness hasn’t been solved because everyone has had other priorities.

Which is why Secretary Shinseki’s call for an end to veterans homelessness is so hopeful.  That call, and the steps that have been taken by VA, and by others around the country in response, have left us closer than ever before to a solution.  VA has expanded the range of homeless services they offer, put more caseworkers in the field (either directly or through contracts) to help homeless or at-risk veterans with housing and access to health and employment services. They’ve even developed systems to quantify progress.  An important shift in mindset is in process, focusing on solving the problem instead of just running disparate programs – and it’s clear from the progress made thus far that the process has changed for the better.

And yet, in no way is this a done deal.  The work that remains, while less than for any other part of the homelessness problem, is substantial.  The keys to making that happen over the next few years are as follows:

  • Persistence – We need to finish what we’ve started.  It will be important to keep going back to Congress each year to follow up on commitments of funding.  HUD-VASH and Supportive Services for Veteran Families, providing permanent supportive housing on the one hand and emergency prevention and rapid re-housing on the other, need to be scaled up to solve the entire problem. This is an entirely achievable goal, even in times of tight federal budgets.
  • Outreach and engagement – With the resources and appropriate program models in place, the biggest task will be to find every homeless veteran, and every veteran at imminent risk of homelessness, and make sure that he or she is connected to the right package of services.  VA has an important role to play, as does the Department of Defense; but so does every person in every community who may encounter a veteran in these situations.
  • Make it everybody’s business – Solving this problem will require that the outpouring of goodwill toward veterans that we have seen in recent years translates into real action, by entire communities.  Leaders from VA and from local communities need to be working together, involving employers, landlords, the faith community, every level of government, and every concerned resident who can help.
  • Keep leadership VA’s mission – At the same time that it is everyone’s business to end veterans homelessness, everyone will continue to look to VA for leadership.  The Secretary’s leadership has been vigorous; that leadership will also need to be exercised by VISN and Medical Center directors around the country.
  • Housing First – Secretary Shinseki has clearly backed a Housing First approach, beginning with his statement at the Alliance’s national conference in July, 2010, because it works.  This approach is sometimes opposed because it appears to inadequately condemn what is seen as bad behavior, and on the grounds that a homeless person should be required to earn housing by good behavior.  The “earn it” approach, however, will not lead to an end to veterans homelessness, as 25 years of experience proves.  We need to be clear that veterans earned protection from homelessness when they put on uniforms and agreed to put their lives at risk.

Happy Veterans Day to everyone, and our thanks to those who have served and are serving still.

We are looking forward to substantially fewer veterans living homeless each year, until in a few years every veteran has a decent place to live, and every veteran who loses housing gets the help he or she needs, immediately, to solve that crisis.

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10th November
written by Kate Seif

Often when we think of homeless veterans, the image that comes to mind is that of an older man, likely of the Vietnam generation, living on the streets.  In other words, we tend to associate homeless veterans with chronically homeless people.  For this group of people, we know that one of the best interventions to end their homelessness and to prevent future episodes is the joint Departments of Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program.  Permanent supportive housing, we know, is solution to chronic homelessness; housing, with services and case management through VA, is ending chronic homelessness among veterans one unit at a time.

As such, even in this difficult funding environment, Congress is likely to provide $75 million for approximately 11,000 new vouchers this year.

This is fantastic news and it is helping to end veterans homelessness, but unfortunately, our homeless veterans don’t always meet that image we have in our head.  Instead, many are increasingly younger, veterans not only of the Gulf War, but our current conflicts as well.  Larger and larger portions of the homeless vet population are females, often with young children.

So how do we serve homeless veterans that may not fit into the definition we have in our heads? VA is responding to the changing face of our veterans with programs like the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) program, which provides services to families residing in transitional or permanent supportive housing.  But again, this program only targets a specific population.  What program will serve the young woman who doesn’t consider herself a veteran because she never saw combat? Or the young man who doesn’t know enough about PTSD to connect his symptoms of fear and depression with his experiences in theater?

HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants have been serving the homeless population, including veterans, families, chronically homeless individuals, and youth with a variety of interventions, including permanent supportive housing, rapid re-housing, and others. It has proven successful in reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness and is often the program that serves our veterans, whether those individuals identify as such or have any formal connection to VA services.

While many veterans programs are continuing to receive robust and increased funding, HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs are not.  McKinney needs an increase to meet the rising need of people experiencing homelessness in this difficult economic climate to serve our veterans, young and old, male and female, and everyone else who may be at risk of or experiencing homelessness – our friends, our neighbors, and fellow Americans.

With Veterans Day just around the corner, please take a moment to consider helping our less fortunate heroes.

The House is currently circulating a sign-on letter encouraging appropriators to provide increased funding for HUD’s McKinney-Vento programs.  Some of this extra funding will inevitably serve those who served our country.  Please call your representatives and ask them to sign on to the Hastings/Moore/Johnson McKinney sign-on letter TODAY!

9th November
written by Ian Lisman

My old boss used to jokingly say “Everyone thinks their clients are special, well ours actually are.”

He was talking about veterans; my boss was a Vietnam veteran himself. Having been a direct service provider for homeless veterans, I can attest that they are a special population indeed – with a host of unique characteristics and barriers that can inhibit the housing and recovery process.

The first hurdle is walking in the door. Many veterans simply won’t ask for help, even when they desperately need it. The culture of self-reliance and determination, coupled with the warrior mentality that served them so well in the military, does not always translate well to civilian life. To this day, baby boomer children are bringing their World War Two and Korean War veteran fathers into agencies seeking assistance. The spouses of Vietnam veterans are bringing their reluctant partners in for help, decades after their service. Understanding this perspective is key to helping veterans help themselves. They want a hand up, not a hand out. They want to work, be productive, and continue to serve the country they love.

Then there are the medical issues. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is highly prevalent among combat veterans and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI’s) are the “signature” wound of the current conflicts. Due to advances in medical technology, there are many veterans who have survived wounds that would have been deadly a generation ago. This leaves us with a population of wounded warriors that have serious physical limitations to cope with for the rest of their life.  Moreover, there are psychological factors that may impede the road to health and housing.  For example, veterans represent a small portion (9 percent) of our population and their experiences are so outside the ordinary experience of civilian life. Combat veterans in particular have trouble reintegrating after conflict. These experiences tend to set veterans apart from the rest of society. This isolation that ensues may contribute to psychological and potentially damaging problems.

And then the search starts. Until recently, finding a place for a homeless veteran to stay was a fairly difficult process. The choices were emergency shelter, transitional housing program (very high demand), motel vouchers (few and far between), treatment facility (short term), or some other such halfway intervention.

In the past a veteran had to bounce around from program to program, shelter to shelter to find a place to sleep. If the veteran couldn’t work and had limited or no income, he or she was just out of luck. Those who could work struggled, and still do, to find affordable housing. Bad credit, evictions, and other housing barriers only aggravate matters.

Luckily, in recent years, more options have become available. With the re-authorization of HUD-VASH, service providers can end homelessness for some chronically homeless veterans. With the SSVF grants coming on board there are now opportunities for newly homeless and at risk veterans to avoid the staggering inefficiency of the shelter system. Shelters will always have their place, but now they can be used in the most efficient way – as a brief, intermediary band-aid until providers can find a housing-based solution for the veteran.

As Steve pointed out yesterday, our national community has committed to honoring the service of veterans by ensuring that no servicemember ends up facing life on the street. And we’ve made strides to move towards a country with veteran homelessness.

But the fight is far from over. Unemployment among veterans is almost twice as high as unemployment among non-veterans. Veterans are still overrepresented in the homeless population. Veterans still face an array of challenges – environmental, psychological, medical – that will infringe upon their ability to become reintegrated into society and safely re-housed.

Working with veterans is a fine balance of understanding and respect. But it’s the very least we can do in honor of the brave men and women who have so valiantly served our country.

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8th November
written by Steve Berg

One of the most exciting days in recent years was November 3, 2009, when Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Erik Shinseki came to a national summit convened by VA and announced that it was his goal to end homelessness for veterans in five years. Veterans homelessness is the most frustrating part of the homelessness problem, because the resources and political will to end it should be available with sufficient leadership.  General Shinseki’s speech indicated that leadership from the top would not be lacking.

Since that date, VA Headquarters has pulled out the stops to get a plan off the ground, along with Congress and others including the Alliance.  Among the most important things that have emerged since them are:

A clearer mission – Secretary Shinseki’s announcement signaled a change at VA, to go beyond running disparate homeless assistance programs. Instead, VA plans to reorganize itself to solve the problem of veterans homelessness.  A central component of that reorganization was individual commitment to the goal. As VA has a decentralized management, adoption of this goal at the top was not enough to turn the goal into action.  But over the past two years, more and more leaders at the local and regional level of VA have become personally committed to the goal.

A broader range of program options – Until recently, VA’s homelessness programs served a narrow range of homeless veterans.  VA had no programs designed for the most chronically ill, chronically homeless veterans; and it had no programs for veterans who were homeless due to short-term crises that were primarily economic.  Both of these gaps, however, are in the process of being filled.

  • HUD-VASH – For each of the past four years, Congress has funded a new batch of HUD-VASH supportive housing vouchers along with case management services at VA.  This is an ideal tool for ending homelessness for those veterans with severe disabilities who are homeless the longest.  HUD-VASH, when revived by Congress four years ago, required VA to do some new things, so the early vouchers were slow getting out and not necessarily targeted to those with the most need.  The performance of VA, however, has improved substantially, both in efficiently getting new vouchers out the door, and targeting them to chronically homeless veterans.
  • SSVF – The Supportive Services for Veteran Families program recently awarded its first round of funding: $50 million to 85 nonprofit providers around the country to provide rapid re-housing and emergency homelessness prevention services to veterans, similar to the services provided by HPRP.  The programs are up and running and another round of funding – twice as large this time – has already been approved for next year.

And VA is still going. Over the next year and more, expect the unveiling of a number of new parts of VA’s plan:

  • SSVF expansion – Funding has already been approved to double the size of the program.  Additional expansion will be necessary to meet all the need.
  • 60,000 HUD-VASH vouchers – Support appears strong in Congress to continue to expand this program as long as VA’s work on targeting continues to improve.  Every indication is that there will be sufficient HUD-VASH rent subsidies and services for all chronically homeless veterans.
  • Housing First – Secretary Shinseki has publically supported a Housing First approach that allows homeless veterans, even those with severe service needs, to be established in permanent housing as the first step in their move to independence. Services that target personal, medical, psychological, and other issues are provided after housing.
  • More and better data – VA already has a strong plan for improving data about homelessness among veterans which will be useful at targeting resources and assessing progress.
  • The most effective practices – VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans is expanding its ability to provide help to local and regional VA staff in order to better understand and implement effective models.

This is a plan that can succeed. This is a problem that can be solved. If we can find and house 76,000 homeless veterans, we can end veteran homelessness.

Later this week, we’ll go into what needs to happen, both in VA and in communities, for that to happen.

7th November
written by Pete Witte

Here are the eye-popping facts taken from the October report authored by the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, Veteran Homelessness: A Supplemental Report to the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress:

  • On a given night in 2010, more veterans were homeless than in 2009 (76,329 compared to 75,609);
    • Nearly 33,000 of those veterans were living on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in cars, or other places non intended for human habitation;
    • Veterans make up nearly 12 percent of the total homeless population;
  • From October 2009 to September 2010, almost 150,000 veterans spent a night at a shelter or in transitional housing;
    • About one-third of those veterans were sheltered in suburban or rural areas;
  • Nationally, the rate of veterans homelessness is 35 out of every 10,000 veterans are homeless;
    • There are 12 states where this rate is higher (see map above); and
    • In Washington, DC, the rate is 190 per 10,000 veterans;
  • More than half (51 percent) of sheltered homeless veterans have a disability;
  • Veterans are more than twice as likely to be homeless as non-veterans;
  • If you are a female veteran, you are two and a half times more likely to be homeless as non-veteran females;
    • If you are a poor female veteran, you are nearly three and a half times as likely to be homeless as non-veteran poor females;
  • Among minority groups, poor veterans’ risk of homelessness is higher;
    • Poor Hispanics and Latinos veterans are nearly three times more likely to be homeless than non-veteran poor Hispanics and Latinos;
    • Poor Hispanics and Latinos veterans are nearly three times more likely to be homeless than non-veteran poor Hispanics and Latinos;
    • Poor African-Americans veterans are more than two times as likely to be homeless than non-veteran poor African Americans;
  • A veteran aged 18 to 30 is more than twice as likely to become homeless as a non-veteran of that same age cohort;
  • Among the 18 to 30 age cohort, if you are a poor veteran you are nearly four times as likely to be homeless as a non-veteran in your cohort.

And while I just laid out the “eye-popping” facts, I want to leave you with an important, departing (and encouraging) fact.

In November, 2009, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary, General Eric Shinseki said, “[The VA is] committed to ending homelessness among veterans within the next five years. Those who have served this nation as veterans should never find themselves on the streets, living without care and without hope.”

I agree.

And if you’ve read this far, then I imagine that you’ll want to know more about what can be done to ensure that all veterans maintain permanent housing. To find out more about how to end homelessness among veterans and to hear about associated activities that VA and HUD have taken up, see Alliance veterans’ policy analyst Ian Lisman’s blog article here.

For a one-pager on veterans homelessness, please visit the Alliance website.

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