1st November
written by Catherine An

It’s that time again! November rolls around and here at the Alliance we are starting to gearing up for the end of the year. Messages about giving, advocacy alerts, and blogs/tweets/Facebook posts hurry out of the office to coincide with the holiday season.

For the next two weeks, in honor of Veterans Day, the Alliance will be focusing on veteran homelessness. This vulnerable population will dominate our conversation on the blog, on our social networks, and in our other communications avenues until Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 11. We’ll try to cover the issue from as many perspectives as possible and feature our resident experts on data, policy, solutions, strategies, and capacity building. We’ll ask: how many homeless veterans are there? How can they be assisted? What specific challenges do they face? What legislation exists for to help veterans readjust to civilian life? What’s going on with the five year plan to end vets homelessness?

We ask and encourage you to get involved. Send us questions, comments, ideas, feedback – you can leave them here (in the comments section), on our Facebook account, via Twitter, or send us a good old fashioned email.

This year, we are offering a special giving opportunity in honor of our veterans. In the month of November, you can honor a veteran by making a donation to the Alliance on their behalf; we’ll make sure to send a card to the veteran you specify to inform them of your generosity.

For more information about giving, please visit our giving pages or email Elizabeth Doherty.

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11th October
written by Catherine An

In the veterans supplement to the AHAR last week, we learned that the point-in-time count of veterans experiencing homelessness rose one percent to 76,329 from 2009 to 2010. In the same time period, year-round counts of homeless veterans seeking services decreased by 3 percent, to 144,842.
There were a number of other observations and statistics presented in the report, which covered

  • estimates of homelessness among veterans
  • demographic characteristics of sheltered veterans
  • risk of homelessness among veterans, examining gender, race/ethnicity, age, and disability status
  • location of homeless veterans
  • veterans’ access and use of the shelter system
  • permanent supportive housing use by veterans

Among the many findings presented in the report, I was struck by two in particular, both pertaining to the risk of homelessness among veterans.

First is the widely-reported idea that female veterans are at higher risk of homelessness than their male counterparts. The report suggests that the wide reporting is based on fact, suggesting that female veterans are twice as likely as their non-veteran counterparts to experience homelessness. Poor female veterans are three times as likely to experience homelessness as their non-veteran counterparts living in poverty. In fact, it can be said that military service heightens the American woman’s risk of experiencing homelessness.

I was also taken by the racial breakdown of risk. As the Alliance has observed before, African Americans are strongly overrepresented in the homeless veterans population. African Americans make up approximately 35 percent of the homeless veteran population but only 10 percent of the veteran population (and only 13 percent of the American population). Likewise, Latino/Hispanic veterans constitute 12 percent of the homeless veterans population but only 8 percent of the veteran population.

But I also noticed that Asians, while being underrepresented in the homeless veteran population (only 0.5 percent of the homeless veteran population and just over 1 percent of the total veteran population) were at particularly high risk of experiencing homelessness. At higher risk, according to the chart presented, than either their African American and Latino/Hispanic counterparts.

For more information about this report on veterans or to access it online, please click here.

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6th October
written by Anna Blasco

Recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released the second annual veteran-specific supplement to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). This report provides one-day and one-year estimates of the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the United States, as well as the demographic characteristics of the veterans experiencing homelessness.

The report found that veteran homelessness in 2010 changed only slightly from 2009. The one-day estimate, called a Point-in-Time count, increased by 1 percent, from 75,609 homeless veterans on a single night in 2009 to 76,329 homeless veterans on a single night in 2010. The one-year count of sheltered veterans decreased by 3 percent between 2009 and 2010, from 149,635 to 144,842.

The demographic characteristics of homeless veterans were also largely unchanged. Homeless veterans in 2010 were slightly older, slightly more likely to be white, and slightly more likely to be disabled than they were in 2009.

One aspect of this report was particularly worrisome considering the Obama Administration’s plans to bring home large numbers of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the report, young veterans (between 18 and 30) are more than twice as likely to be homeless than non-veterans, and young veterans living in poverty are almost four times as likely to be homeless as non-veterans. Veterans about to return from our current conflicts will face a difficult economy and job market and may need extra support to ensure they don’t experience poverty or homelessness as they rejoin civilian life.

Finally, while all states have homeless veterans, four states account of 50 percent of homeless veterans in the country: California, New York, Florida, and Texas.

You can find the report here:

2nd September
written by Anna Blasco

This week, while some communities were still cleaning up after Hurricane Irene, we also paused to reflect on the six year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in Louisiana.

Those unaffected by Katrina may be surprised to learn that many people who lost their homes as a result of the hurricane are still living in makeshift homes and abandoned buildings. Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont, said this week that coming together to help after disasters “is what being a nation is about.” I couldn’t agree more that as a nation we need to make sure that those still recovering from Katrina, the tornados in Joplin, and other disasters receive the help they need, and that we are prepared for a disaster before it strikes.

The state of our veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were also heavily discussed in the news this week, due to a speech President Obama gave at the American Legion national convention on Tuesday. In this address, the president discussed the federal government’s commitment to better support veterans when they return home, noting “that includes making sure that federal agencies are working together so that every veteran who fought for America has a home in America.” He also pledged to protect programs that assist veterans from budget cuts.

“We cannot, will not, and we must not, balance the budget on the backs of our veterans,” Obama said.

Also of note: NPR launched a series on female veterans transitioning to civilian life this week. In the last couple years, there’s been some discussion of the rise in female veterans experiencing homelessness. In our previous veteran reports, we noted that females veterans can experience high risk of homelessness than their male counterparts as female veterans are more likely to earn less money than males upon returning to veteran life, be single parents with children, and experience severe housing cost burden.

Without question, there are more females serving in the armed forces than there have been in the past and we can – and will – work to meet their specific needs as they transition back into civilian life.

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28th July
written by Catherine An

Today’s post comes to us from Donna Gallup, MSW, LSW, and Executive Director of Lamp Community in Los Angeles, CA.

Recent homeless counts have found that nearly 50,000 homeless individuals and families live in Los Angeles County on any given night. Chronically homeless individuals – homeless for a year or more and coping with one or more serious health, mental health and addiction problems – account for nearly 12,000 of that total; 6,000 newly homeless veterans also live in L.A.

Last November, an extraordinary report called Home For Good laid out a blueprint to end chronic and veteran homelessness in L.A. County by 2016. Lamp Community is proud to support the plan, based on 10 months of work by the Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness, a group of 22 organizations assembled by the United Way and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce. Home For Good’s goal is not only to find permanent housing for chronically homeless individuals, but also to provide intensive supportive services and treatment to help them regain their physical and mental health and self-esteem, and to help them reintegrate into the community. This is the work that Lamp Community has done for more than 25 years in L.A.’s Skid Row, which has the highest concentration of homelessness in Los Angeles. We at Lamp are happy to see the movement toward permanent supportive housing as a best practice for ending homelessness.

Think about what it would mean to end chronic and veteran homelessness in L.A. County – not to merely manage it, but to eradicate it with substantial long-term assistance that addresses the root causes of chronic homelessness. It costs the public “$875 million each year to manage homelessness in our region rather than end it,” including “use of emergency rooms, jails, shelters, and other crisis services,” Home For Good notes. Further, one quarter of the homeless population uses an estimated three quarters of the total resources addressing homelessness – approximately $650 million. Two recent studies cited in the report show permanent supportive housing lowers public costs by more than 40 percent.

At Lamp, we’ve known this for years.  While it can cost taxpayers up to $65,000 to keep a single homeless individual living on the streets for a year, permanent supportive housing at Lamp – with its bevy of wrap-around services – costs only $12,000 to $14,000 per year, per person. More than 85% of those housed through Lamp maintain their housing for a year or more. Most are never homeless again and have the chance to become a part of their community.

Homelessness is a deeply complex issue, and hundreds of area organizations do important work helping people survive and move past a life on the streets. But service providers remain a house divided. We have to do better in Los Angeles, and that means working together on a cohesive plan like that laid out by Home For Good.

Home For Good’s goals are ambitious. But Los Angeles can no longer tolerate the ineffective status quo. We can only strengthen our local continuum of care by direct and regular collaboration among service and housing providers in conjunction with public and private partners. We urge our friends and allies to join this initiative and come together to end homelessness permanently in Los Angeles.

21st July
written by Catherine An

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Labor released a guide intended to improve services delivered to women veterans experiencing homelessness. The guide, called “Trauma-Informed Care for Women Veterans Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide for Service Providers” includes sections illustrating the experiences and needs of female veterans, describing trauma-informed care in homeless service settings, and a tool called the Organizational Self-Assessment for Providers.

Right off the bat, the guide offers background on women’s present – and growing – participation in the armed forces. According to the report:

  • Female service members are 14 percent of the active duty force and 18 percent of the National Guard and Reserve.
  • 11 percent of female service members are single parents; 4 percent of male service members are single parents.
  • Female veterans are four times more likely to a) identify themselves as a racial minority, b) have lower incomes, c) be unemployed, and d) younger than their male counterparts.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that the number of female veterans will grow from 1.8 million (8.2 percent of all veterans) to 2.1 million in 2010 (15.2 percent of all veterans) by 2036.

As the title suggests, the guide emphasizes the impact of trauma – both during and not during service – as a risk factor for experiencing homelessness. Military sexual trauma (MST) and service-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are specifically identified, as well as trauma experienced during childhood and adolescence.

While trauma and the resulting behaviors and limitations trauma may cause can be risk factors to homelessness, female veterans also experience a variety of other challenges that jeopardize their housing stability.

In the report, “Vital Mission: Ending Homelessness Among Veterans,” the Alliance identified a number of factors that could increase the risk of homelessness for women veterans. Factors include:

  • Female veterans are more likely to have lower incomes than their male counterparts.
  • Female veterans are more to be divorced and more likely to have children than their male counterparts.
  • 13 percent of female veterans experience severe housing cost burden (paying 50+ percent of the monthly income on rent) as compared to 10 percent of male veterans; of those female veterans who experience severe housing cost burden, 59 percent fall b elow the poverty level.

While the population of female veterans, and female veterans experiencing homelessness, is small and the data limited, it’s clear that this is an emerging issue needing study and consideration. For more information about veteran homelessness, please visit the Alliance website.

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10th June
written by naehblog

Perhaps the biggest news this week was that the lawsuit between the ACLU and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Over land in Los Angeles, the ACLU is alleging that the land, deed to the VA to provide housing for homeless veterans, is not being used as it was intended. The NYT offered an editorial about the situation this week.

Secretary Shaun Donovan had a thing or two to say about veteran homelessness on the HUD blog, The HUDdle. Writing about his experience before the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, he called the effort to end homeless veterans, “beyond political” – a sentiment that we can all get behind.

But some things are political.

According to a piece in the NYT, state judiciaries are getting into the game of balancing state budgets. As governors and legislators try to balance their budgets, some are being taken to court over their decisions. And some judiciaries are reversing budget decisions, compelling lawmakers to respect constitutional standards despite their empty pocketbooks.

And the effects of these decisions are tangible at the local level. Today, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran a touching story about the impact of reduced assistance on one crisis center serving far too many people and families experiencing homelessness. While the staff there clearly does what they can, slashed budgets – and an end to rent subsidies – are leaving people with few, if any, options.

For more news clips from the week, check out the Alliance website.

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8th June
written by naehblog

This past week, I went to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ conference here in Washington, D.C. at the Grand Hyatt.  Attending this conference gave me a chance to gain as broad a base of knowledge on veteran homelessness as I could get anywhere.

The three days were divided into two main parts:
- the first day consisted of an introductory session followed by a public policy forum;
- the remaining two days mostly consisted of individual sessions concerning specific aspects of veteran homelessness.

The first day started with an opening session. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki all gave remarks during the opening session. Colonel David Sutherland from the Department of Defense and Ray Jefferson, Assistant Secretary of Veterans’ Employment and Training Service also followed suit.

The common themes that kept recurring from all of them were a call for collaboration, both at the national level and at the local level.  Secretary Donovan put it perfectly when he said that, “too often we consider ourselves specialists.”

My favorite part of the entire conference was the public policy forum. Pete Dougherty and Vince Kane from the VA, Gordon Burke from Labor, Anthony Love from USICH, and Mark Johnston from HUD all sat on the forum and took questions. For someone like me (I’ve always been attracted to the policy side of government), it was fascinating to watch the people who create and oversee programs interacting with the people who run these programs down on the level where they are put into use.

Moreover, as someone who will be in the Army in a couple years and serve with soldiers who could potentially face homelessness, it feels great to know that people care and are trying to help at every level.

On the second day, I heard Emily Button from US VETS speak about a permanent housing facility she runs around DC.

Her facility has a unique feature: veterans there live in two bedroom apartment units with a roommate to utilize the idea of a “battle buddy”; your “battle buddy” watches out for you while you watch out for them.  I thought this was great because it takes a veteran back to the basic roots of what they’re taught in the military, especially at a time of their lives when they’re most vulnerable and need someone.

After the three days, I can say that I have been completely immersed in what there is to know about veteran homelessness.  It was great meeting so many people who have devoted their lives to helping and serving those that have put everything on the line for us and for our country.

25th March
written by Catherine An

So good news first.

Evidently, Newport is doing something right. The small Rhode Island community has reduced chronic homelessness by half utilizing the Housing First strategy and a collaboration of six agencies and churches is aiming to end chronic homelessness in Newport and other small surrounding communities. It’s like the good program director says, ““It’s not rocket science. Homeless people need homes. ”

This message, unfortunately, is being lost among those in charge of our city, state, and federal budgets. It’s no secret by now – we’ve been writing about it for months now! – that everyone feels up against the wall trying to stay in the black. But the choices our leaders are being forced to make are cringe-worthy indeed, from reducing housing vouchers for veterans, to eliminating food stamps and cash assistance, to downsizing state safety nets for the poor. While it’s clear that all of us will have to compromise to preserve the greater good, certainly we don’t have to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors – right?

Speaking of, two more quick hits to round out the week.

There was an interesting post in the Atlantic asking “should you give money to homeless people?” And in the Nation, there was an summary about US poverty rates. (We actually blogged about it yesterday.)

Check those out and let us know what you think!

24th March
written by Catherine An

We’re just the messenger on this one – but for more information or for the application form, please email us.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Homeless Veterans Initiative Office is seeking nominations for the 2011 Secretary Award for Outstanding Achievement in Service for Homeless Veterans. This award program recognizes the achievement of individuals, teams, and organizations that provide exceptional service to homeless veterans and ending the cycle of homelessness among veterans.

Award nominations must be submitted to Department of Veterans Affairs, Homeless Veteran Initiative Office located at 1722 Eye Street, NW Washington, DC 20421 (Attn: Pete Dougherty) no later than April 22, 2011.

The following is an excerpt of the Award Criteria as released by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Service for Homeless Veterans

Purpose: The purpose of this award is to recognize outstanding achievements of individuals, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees, VA organizations, and partners including but not limited to veteran service organizations, businesses, community and faith-based organizations that provide exceptional service to homeless Veterans and contribute to breaking the cycle of chronic homelessness among Veterans.

Eligibility: This honor award is intended to recognize individuals, teams, and organizations that provide benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.

Type of Recognition: The Honor award would consist of a certificate presented by the Secretary or designated Senior VA official on site during field visits or at a special ceremony hosted at VACO. The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs will coordinate for a presentation to be included in the Secretary’s trip packages and be responsible in coordination with local public affairs officers for contacting the appropriate source of local or national media. There is no authority for granting a cash award, or an expensive non-cash award, to a non-Governmental employee or entity.

Criteria: This award program recognizes the achievement of individuals, teams and organizations that provide exceptional service to homeless Veterans and ending the cycle of homelessness among Veterans.

1.) Outstanding Achievement by an Individual VA Employee

Eligibility. Each nominee must be employed by VA and be involved in providing benefits assistance and healthcare and supportive services to homeless or formerly homeless Veterans.

- Nominee displays dedication and competency in providing benefits and services to homeless or formerly homeless Veterans.
- Nominee demonstrates effectiveness in improving and delivering benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.
- Nominee effectively collaborates with other homeless providers both within the VA and with community agencies and organizations.
- Nominee develops and implements strategies to improve the provision of benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.

2.) Outstanding Achievement by a VA Organization

Eligibility. Each nominee must be VA organization involved in providing benefits and services to homeless or formerly homeless Veterans.

- Organization demonstrates effectiveness in improving and delivering benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.
- Organization effectively collaborates with other homeless providers both within the VA and with community agencies and organizations.
- Organization develops and implements strategies to improve the provision of benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.
- Organization has enhanced the visibility and image of VA in providing benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.

3.) Outstanding achievement by a Community Organization

Eligibility. Each nominee must be the employee or organization in recipient of a VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem award or an organization currently providing benefits and services to homeless or formerly homeless Veterans.

- Nominee demonstrates effectiveness in improving and delivering benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.
- Nominee effectively collaborates with other homeless providers both within the VA and with community agencies and organizations.
- Develops and implements strategies to improve the provision of benefits and services to homeless and formerly homeless Veterans.

Nomination Process: A working group, chaired by the Director of Homeless Veteran Programs (075) and comprised of representation from Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, National Cemetery Administration, and VACO Staff Offices knowledgeable of programs and services for the homeless will develop the framework and details of the nominating process. It is anticipated nominations for outstanding achievement by individual VA employees and VA organizations will be made utilizing existing organizational chain of command. The working group will evaluate applications and recommend candidates to receive an award for each category of award based on criteria listed above.

Endorsement from the Under Secretary for Health, Under Secretary for Benefits and the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs will be obtained prior to forwarding to the Secretary for final approval for employees or organizational elements under their jurisdiction.

Security clearances may be required for VA employees.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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