On Monday, December 10, The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released national numbers from the January 2012 Point-In-Time (PIT) Counts, which give an estimate of the number of people sleeping in shelters and other housing for homeless people and also in places not meant for human habitation (aka “the streets”) at a single point in time. In this case, that point in time was mid-January, 2012.
Since a lot of people around the country are entering the final month of preparation for the 2013 PIT count, I want to start by saying that having these numbers every year has turned out to be extremely important. The enumeration is not perfect. But PIT Counts have become more rigorous over the years, and we believe they provide a reliable and worthwhile estimate. We have to thank everyone who works so hard to make these numbers as reliable as they are. The PIT numbers remind everyone that continued high unemployment leaves hundreds of thousands in shelters and on the streets every night, and that service providers and system managers around the country have worked heroically to keep the numbers from skyrocketing.
Looking at the overall PIT counts, here’s the trend in overall homelessness from 2005 to 2012:
As has been the case since the national unemployment rate skyrocketed above 7 percent in early 2009 (and over 10 percent by late 2009), the number of homeless people stayed about the same between early 2011 and early 2012. Given the continued problems with the job market and the fact that rents started to rise again in many communities that year, holding the line is a remarkable accomplishment.
Less reassuring is the fact that 2011 was the last full year when funding under the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) was available. When HPRP first passed as a three-year program, we all hoped that, by the time it expired, the economy would be in better shape. The first HPRP grants were released right around the time the national unemployment rate topped out over 10 percent, but it’s only in the last few months that it’s dropped below 8 percent. By contrast, during most of the period 2005 to early 2007 when the number of homeless people dropped so substantially, it was around 4.5 percent, “full employment” by most accounts.
Here are trends for some of the most discussed subpopulations from 2005 to 2012:
Veteran numbers only go back to 2009, the first year when HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) worked together to establish a solid methodology for including veterans in the PIT counts. The number of homeless veterans went down largely due to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, the beginning of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, and an increasingly intense focus by VA staff in headquarters and around the country.
With the full implementation of SSVF and continuing work on effective implementation of housing and prevention strategies, this curve could move sharply downward in the next couple years, as long as implementation is strong and employment numbers continue to improve.
Chronic homelessness also declined in 2011, at a somewhat faster rate than in the previous two years. Some of this is due to HUD-VASH, since the PIT numbers for chronic homelessness include veterans experiencing chronic homelessness. Some of it is due to coming online of Continuum of Care (CoC) program-funded permanent supportive housing that Congress funded before recent fiscal tightening.
Some of the progress on ending chronic homelessness is no doubt due to communities using other resources like Section 8 to get the most vulnerable people off the street, part of the work of the 100,000 Homes campaign, and displayed in a recent report from Los Angeles showing over 2,300 chronically homeless people housed there in the most recent three months.
To end chronic homelessness by the end of 2015, the goal of the federal strategic plan, “Opening Doors,” declines like these will need to accelerate over the next few years. If communities and Congress make ending homelessness enough of a priority, that’s a possibility. If one of the results of fiscal face-offs in Congress is continued reduction in HUD funding, efforts to end chronic homelessness will be severely hampered.
For families, as for homeless people overall, the story is still one of holding the line. We’ve always known that, compared to other subpopulations, families experiencing homelessness are affected most by widespread joblessness. This is an area of particular concern for the future as well, since families overwhelmingly benefited from HPRP. If the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH) of 2009 is funded at the level Congress said it intended in the Act, families would benefit from expanded Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funding. So far, that hasn’t happened. It will be a high priority for the Alliance in 2013.
As a final note, this is the last annual point-in-time count that will lack an overall count of youth homelessness. HUD has already issued guidance to communities that they should note the number of young people aged 18-24, as well as unaccompanied minors. This is an important step that will increase both the political pressure and the capacity to make more serious progress on ending youth homelessness.
I hope all our readers have a happy holiday season and new year. I’ll have another blog right after the first of the year, talking about some of the things we at the Alliance are resolving to do in 2013.
As we approach the fiscal cliff, there is a common misperception that, since Congress exempted all programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from sequestration in the Budget Control Act of 2011, programs that assist low-income and homeless veterans are safe from spending cuts. That’s not quite true.
Low-income and homeless veterans receive a lot of assistance from HUD funded programs as well as from VA, which means cuts to domestic discretionary spending under sequestration would have serious consequences for the most vulnerable of them. This budgetary impasse has the potential to undo our historic progress toward ending veteran homelessness (a 17.2 percent reduction since 2009).
On Thursday, December 6, the Alliance and its partners took this message to the senate, at a congressional hearing, “Discretionary Budget Cuts: Impact on Veterans,” which was hosted by the Homeless Veterans National Advocacy Working Group.
We were joined by Jonathan Harwitz, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Programs, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who you can see in this video explaining how important the interagency collaboration between HUD and VA has been to reducing the number of homeless veterans, (down 7 percent from last year) and how cuts to discretionary domestic spending threaten their efforts.
Also on the panel was Michael DeHart, the Housing Coordinator for Community Connections, a HUD-funded assistance services provider that serves veterans. He spoke about the clients that his program serves, and elaborated on the real human cost of the spending cuts.
A client of Community Connections and a formerly homeless, Shauna Curley, bravely shared her moving story, and described how DeHart’s program helped her and her children get back on their feet.
Lastly, Doug Rice, a Senior Policy Analyst from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, spoke about the realities of the budgetary impasse, describing where the spending cuts will be made and explaining that a deal to avert sequestration might also to spending cuts that could hurt low-income and homeless veterans.
This week the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released some encouraging numbers on veteran homelessness. The number of the homeless veterans recorded during the January 2012 PIT count was 62,619. That’s down 7.2 percent from last year’s count.
That number represents a greater than 17 percent reduction compared to 2009 levels, which means that, even though there are still lot of veterans out there who need our help, we’re making real and significant progress. That’s great news, indeed. However, if we are to meet the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, we will need to achieve even more dramatic decreases in the coming years (particularly in 2013 and 2014).
As Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki noted, “This report continues a trend that clearly indicates we are on the right track in the fight to end homelessness among veterans. While this is encouraging news, we have more work to do and will not be satisfied until no veteran has to sleep on the street.
There’s a lot of hard work left to be done. The coming years will be “make it or break it” time in the five year plan to end veteran homelessness. Our success will rely on the provision of a full spectrum of services, from the transitional housing programs and permanent housing programs that congress has robustly funded in recent years, to rapid rehousing and prevention that VA has supported by funding the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program at historic levels.
Speaking of which, VA recently posted a Notice of Funding Availability for the SSVF program, and the Alliance is partnering with the agency on a webinar tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET. Anyone interested applying for funding under the SSVF program should check it out. We’ll be going over the application process and helping current grantees optimize their programs and fine-tune their interventions.
The deadline for SSVF grantee applications is Friday, February 1. So now is the time to put together your applications. For those of you whose organizations have received HPRP grants that are expiring, remember: the SSVF grant is modeled after HPRP; your experience with rapid rehousing will be an asset in applying for this grant to help veterans and their families.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1919, the guns stopped firing and the Great War ended. On that day, the First Armistice Day, the Allies and the Germans signed the armistice that ended “the war to end all wars.”
It wasn’t until the second global war that we started assigning numbers to them, and “the war to end all wars” became “World War I,” the first of two.
Today we call that first Armistice Day “Veterans Day” (in other parts of the world, it’s “Remembrance Day”). The purpose of this day is not to celebrate war; it’s to honor all those who have served bravely in our armed forces.
And part of honoring them is ensuring that they have a place in our society when their service is done. In acknowledgement of their sacrifice for our country, our veterans deserve, at the very least, a place to call home, gainful employment, and treatment for the wounds of war.
That may not seem like much to ask for our nation’s heroes, but it hasn’t always been there for them.
At the Alliance, we are grateful for all that has been done for our veterans, but we know that there are still many out there who still need our help, men and women who have found themselves living on the very streets they were sworn to defend.
Veteran homelessness is not a simple problem. Its causes and complications are myriad and varied. But, as complex as a problem is, we are making progress.
Fortunately, today’s administration and congress have worked together to the nation’s obligations to our veterans. There have been employment programs and policies, veteran health care reform, home ownership incentives, and more.
There have been new programs funded, old programs re-tooled, data collected and analyzed. Indeed the goal of ending veteran homelessness is in sight.
As many of us enjoy a three day weekend, I urge you to thank a veteran in your life for their service and contribute to one of the many worthy causes that continue to make veteran homelessness a thing of the past.
As we notified our networks last week, there is an amazing opportunity going on right now. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has put out a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA).
This NOFA is for $300 million for the 2013 Supportive Service for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant, over half of which will go to organizations that have not had this grant before.
The name of the grant program is a little confusing: a more accurate name might be the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) for veterans, because that’s basically what it’s for: rapid re-housing and prevention for veterans.
There are some misconceptions about this program. The name has led some people to think that it’s for families and services only. However, you can serve single individuals with this grant as well as families, as the grant defines “family” as a veteran or a veteran and their family.
And the “supportive services” can be short-term rental subsidies, assistance with other household bills, case management, and in this iteration, funding for emergency housing and a wide range of items under the “General Housing Stability Assistance” category.
Grant applications must be received no later than February 1, 2013. I recommend getting your application in early.
Stay tuned folks! We plan to cover this grant and hold a Q&A with VA officials in a webinar next month that will help you in your application process.
In mid-2011, when I was still relatively new to the Alliance and DC, I started reaching out to partner agencies in an effort to form a group that would work behind the scenes, advocating policies to end veteran homelessness. It took a bit of cajoling to get people to join, as there is a perception out there that groups like these can be ineffective or too political for their own good.
Being a wide-eyed newbie to the national advocacy scene, I was, of course, undeterred.
This week marks the one year anniversary of that group, the Homeless Veterans National Advocacy Working Group* (HVNAWG). Happy one year anniversary HVNAWG! It is a long name for a really cool group. (A little disclaimer here – for a variety of political and bureaucratic reason, we remain an “unofficial” group.)
We began relatively small, just seven core representatives from veteran service organizations, national advocacy groups, and a local organization active in national advocacy, but over the last 12 months we have expanded the reach and membership and accomplished a lot. One of our proudest achievements was a well-attended and highly informative congressional briefing we put together several months back.
The value of this working group cannot be overstated. It allows national leaders on ending veteran homelessness to work together and share the expertise of their respective organizations. The diversity of the members’ perspectives, which overlap and complement each other, allow us to tackle policy issues from a variety of angles.
It can be challenging to sit down at the table with members of organizations who may not see eye-to-eye on all issues because of conflicting focus areas or priorities. Organizations may also be rivals or competitors for the same audience or funding streams. This tension can lend itself to a little conflict at times.
But these different philosophical and political viewpoints make for lively discussions and a hearty exchange of knowledge. And we are bound together by our common goal: ending veteran homelessness.
Since its humble beginnings, our group has fielded numerous requests to endorse legislation, weighed in on policy questions, and made congressional allies. While the informal nature of our group keeps us from “officially” backing policy, regulations, or other legislation, we are able to refer to our parent organizations for endorsement of legislation or other official correspondence.
Although we are unofficial, the amount of influence we leverage is impressive. When we agree as a group on policy priorities, we can then align our organizations behind similar messaging. This strategy has had a direct effect on policymakers.
Moving forward, the group will continue to share knowledge and resources, inform policymakers through briefings and educational meetings, and collectively move the ball closer to the goal of ending veteran homelessness once and for all.
We work with far too many individuals and organizations to thank personally in this blog post, but you know who you are. Thank you for your willingness to set aside differences and work together for a common goal. Your hard work and sacrifice have made a difference. Thank you for all you have done, and continue to do in moving forward.
* Current members of the homeless veterans working group are:
American Bar Association
Community Council for the Homeless of Friendship Place
Corporation for Supportive Housing
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
National League of Cities
National Low Income Housing Coalition
Veterans for Common Sense
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Vietnam Veterans of America
As we reach the halfway point in the Department of Veterans Affairs five-year plan to end homelessness among veterans, there is a great excitement in communities across the nation. This is a historic process. Never before have we seen so many people working together to end veteran homelessness. Never before have there been so many resources available to communities wishing to solve this problem.
But what can you as an individual do to contribute to the vital mission of ending veteran homelessness? Besides making a donation to organizations like the Alliance that are working hard on the problem, you can contribute to the effort in a variety of ways. Last week, I discussed the ways individuals can contribute in a webinar hosted by the Points of Light foundation.
The webinar, titled “Finding Community Solutions to Serving the Military Community Part 1: Housing,” was aimed at people who were participating the Martin Luther King Day of Service initiative, as well as other members of communities who were looking to broaden their understanding of the issue and looking for ways to donate their time to serve this cause. A recording of the webinar is available online.
Participating with the local Point in Time (PIT) Count is one way almost anyone can make a huge difference. This annual event is coming up in mid- January, right around the time of the MLK day of service, so it is a natural fit. The best way to participate is to contact your local Continuum of Care and ask to volunteer. You can find the contact information of your local Continuum of Care at this website.
Depending where you are, you may be matched up with another organization, or assigned to a team. You will be going out into your community and physically interacting with and counting the unsheltered people experiencing homelessness, helping to identify which of these individuals are veterans. This is challenging work to be sure, but the data retrieved during this event is the cornerstone of addressing the issue. With accurate counts we can target the resources we have and justify future spending.
Volunteering at your local Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA Hospital) is another way you can help veterans (although not necessarily homeless veterans). You can also donate goods and services to local charities that assist veterans and local Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) in your community.
Whatever option you choose, often the best way to get started is by doing a little research on organizations that help veterans in your area, and the contacting them to ask what they would like you to do to contribute is as an individual. Organizations like these have been around a long time and their staff members know how to best direct resources.
The bottom line is: these are exciting times. Within a few years veteran homelessness will be almost nonexistent, so now is the time to be part of this historic effort to do right by our nations heroes.
Photo “Colorado TAG speaks with homeless vets” courtesy of The National Guard: Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, the Adjutant General of Colorado and commander of the Colorado National Guard, speaks with a veteran during the 19th Annual Homeless Veterans Stand Down held at the Colorado National Guard armory in Denver Nov. 5, 2009.
Last month the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued the announcement for letters of intent for the next round of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant funding with a focus of expanding the SSVF program to all communities.
The day following that announcement, I had the privilege of giving a presentation with Vince Kane and John Kuhn of the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, sponsored by the Lebanon PA VA Medical Center. As I listened to both Vince and John speak to the attendees about VA and the SSVF program, I was struck by the common thread in our presentations: to end homelessness, we need to rapidly re-house families that become homeless and target our prevention resources to those most at risk of homelessness.
VA is looking for SSVF applicants that can show that they have the experience and capacity to deliver targeted prevention and rapid re-housing for veteran families. Vince and John emphasized that in this competitive world, applicants need to do their research and adopt best practices/strategies in implementing the SSVF program.
At the Alliance, we have been working with communities to strengthen and expand rapid re-housing programs. This opportunity, provided by SSVF funding, is a great way that communities can expand rapid re-housing for veteran families experiencing homelessness.
We have learned a lot about what works in communities that have had successes in rapid re-housing with Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) funding. As a result, the Alliance has developed a number of resources on rapid re-housing to help organizations and communities implement or expand their RRH programs. Most recent are three short modules that cover key components of rapid rehousing. These resources can help current SSVF programs build capacity in their program, and help new applicants strategically develop a strong proposal.
Rapid re-housing is key to helping end family homelessness, and now the opportunity is available to expand this strategy to veteran families. As Vince Kane said during his presentation, we need to do things “faster, smarter, better, together.”
Photo “Veterans Stand Down and Homeless Services Day Prince Georges County” courtesy of Maryland GovPics.
Today’s guest post is from Geoff Millard, director of special projects at the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place, a service provider based in D.C. Millard spent 9 years in the U.S. military, including 13 months in Iraq.
September 11, 2001, is a day that will “live in infamy” for my generation, just as Pearl Harbor does for the generation who lived through World War II. This is especially true for those of us who were serving in the military at the time. As most Americans watched with shock and horror as the second plane hit the twin towers, I was driving towards my unit in the New York Army National Guard, already knowing that I was activated.
As the rest of the military readied itself for war in the days following 9/11, I helped secure what became known as “ground zero”. I would soon be readying myself for war too. And war…well, that’s exactly what we got for the next 11-plus years.
The wars Iraq and Afghanistan permanently changed an entire generation of veterans. More than 2.5 million served in combat zones, and more have served at bases across the globe. This generation of service members is now being discharged and becoming veterans. An influx of 2.5 million people would stress any system, let alone one as severely underfunded as the Department of Veterans Affairs historically has been.
Still, the Obama Administration has, for the first time, taken on the task of ending veteran homelessness. It is such a powerful proposal that, in what is possibly the most gridlocked Congress in history, this idea has bipartisan support, true bipartisan support – not the two-votes-from-the-other-side-type bipartisan support often touted on The Hill.
While this effort must focus on the bulk of the problem, homelessness among the generation of veterans who served in the Vietnam era, we are planning new and innovative ways of meeting the needs of Afghanistan- and Iraq-era veterans. Take, for example, the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which just passed at $300 million for FY13.
Because so few of my generation of veterans require permanent help, the program is designed to get veterans back into housing soon after they become homeless, and meet the needs of veterans who need short-term help to avoid homelessness. This program is a critical component in our strategy to end veteran homelessness. It really could be the safety net that prevents another generation of veterans from struggling with homelessness for the rest of their lives.
The SSVF program is modeled after the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP), which the National Alliance to End Homelessness credits for the 1 percent nationwide drop in overall homelessness during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
VA officials intend to use the prevention component of SSVF to ensure that another generation of veterans won’t face the prospect of living on the streets for any period of time, while they intend to use the rapid rehousing component to ensure that veterans who do experience homelessness have resources to return to permanent housing as quickly as possible.
The more time a person spends living on the street, the worse the problems that got that person there get. The effects of street living take a toll on one’s physical health as well as one’s mental health, and increases the likelihood of self-medication through drugs and alcohol. By getting people back into housing fast, we can preserve their health and humanity.
The SSVF program also includes a new component for VA: families. Traditionally, VA has offered homeless services only to the veterans themselves, turning away veteran families who were in need of services. At Friendship Place, one our top concerns for our program is reuniting participants with their families; this is true for veterans and non-veterans alike.
When our nation was in shock and fear, a new generation of service men and women answered the call to protect the nation. Their selflessness has earned them a great debt from this country that we must pay if we are to remain a light for the world in dark times. VA officials have an actual plan to end veteran homelessness that has a real chance at success. The question that remains is whether we are prepared to see it through to the end, and fund it in full.
The photo above, which shows Geoff Millard with VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, is courtesy of the Friendship Place. For more information on Friendship Place please visit www.FriendshipPlaceDC.org.
Today’s guest blog is from Dana L. Niemela, homeless veterans reintegration program coordinator at the the Denver Department of Human Services.
After spending eight years on active duty, I decided to put the military far in my rearview mirror. I didn’t access the services to which I was entitled until I had been out for five years. When I finally did, I found it to be a tremendous struggle. Fortunately, I’m a resourceful, assertive individual who doesn’t respond well to stagnation or hearing the word “no.” I pressed on, but often wondered to myself, “what is happening to the veteran who may be 24 years old, served multiple combat tours and doesn’t feel as empowered as I?” The short answer is that I imagine that veteran would give up. In my opinion, that is completely unacceptable. So I got into the business of ensuring access to services for all veterans.
In doing my work, I learned that there are a tremendous number of resources for veterans in the community. We are very fortunate that we live in a time where being a veteran and helping a veteran is “sexy.” Everyone wants in on the game, for better or worse. It was not the same for those veterans who came before us. These veterans were disenfranchised from the system, spent decades fighting it only to be disappointed or discredited, and found themselves in a chronic condition that led them to believe they are not worth a good job, a roof over their heads, and a life of self-determination. It has become my mission to help them understand that things are different now. No matter how many times you have come through the door before, this time may be different. I ask the questions, “How badly do you want to be off the streets?” “Isn’t it a good feeling to be able to provide for yourself?” “Wouldn’t you love to be an active participant in the community and give back?” The answer is always an emphatic YES. And so I set out to ensure they have the tools to do exactly what they need to do.
The beautiful thing about working with veterans is that we have the unique ability to push each other a little harder. We can set higher expectations for one another and hold each other accountable for reaching each milestone along the way. After spending five years in the corporate world, I was horribly disappointed by the lack of individual accountability. I desperately wanted people to expect more of me, to raise the bar, and expect me to excel. I don’t believe that to be a uniquely veteran thing – I believe it’s a basic human need.
After joining a group called Veterans Expeditions, I went on an excursion into the mountains led by a former Army Ranger by the name of Nick. The physical test that I was put through on this expedition was unlike anything I had ever experienced. When Nick pointed out the route up the mountain, I didn’t understand. This was not a route that was meant for human beings to traverse. Mountain goats, maybe, but alas I am not a mountain goat. I thought I was in way over my head. When I told Nick that I didn’t know how to do what he was asking me to do, he taught me. He instructed me on what to do, and then expected me to do it. At that point it wasn’t a matter as to whether or not I had the tools to complete the mission, it was a matter of whether or not I had the intestinal fortitude to overcome my fears and push through the mental blocks. There was no way I was going to quit when Nick expected me to succeed. I made it to the top of the mountain, and when I turned around to look at the path from which I had just come, I cried. I was shaking as the adrenaline rushed through my body, and I just looked at Nick and said, “Thank you.”
I never would have even tried to push those boundaries if Nick hadn’t set the expectation that I could do it. Today I see a disturbing trend. I recently met with a 25-year-old combat veteran who told me that when he got out of the Army they handed him his VA paperwork and his unemployment application and said, “Go fill this out. You can live off this for the next 18 months.” What kind of bar are we setting for these young people when we encourage them to live off the system right from the start? I’ve seen too many young veterans walk through my door who have access to supports the likes of which the veterans who came before them only dreamed and have no idea what to do with the gift they have been given. What do you expect of a young man or woman who comes back from combat and is handed a “golden egg?” I know what I would have done when I was 25 years old, and it would have ended badly.
In the business of working with the homeless, there is a fine line between empowerment and enabling. We owe these veterans more than a hand out. It is my bet that they yearn for more than that. They look for leadership and guidance from those who are “in” the system as to how to best utilize the resources available to empower themselves to do better. We call that “self-determination.” No one should be a victim of these behemoth bureaucracies. They don’t have to be. As a service provider, I believe my role is to be their advocate, to help them access this horribly complicated system, and to leverage the multitude of resources available to them in order to empower them. The goal isn’t to put a bandage on the wound we call homelessness. The goal is to END it. “I love you my shipmate, but I don’t ever want to see you here again… so let’s see what we can do to make that happen.”