Today’s post comes to us from Ian Lisman, program and policy analyst at the Alliance. Ian is is a U.S. Army combat veteran of the first Gulf War.
A troubling 76,000 homeless veterans are homeless on any given night in the United States. While that number may seem daunting, we at the Alliance are confident that we can end veteran homelessness. Already, as a result of the cooperation between the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), we have made strides in understanding the characteristics and size of the homeless population.
If we utilize the right strategies from the start, we can slowly and surely decrease this number until we end veteran homelessness. The challenge facing us now is implementing those strategies. Fortunately, through great work being done all across the country, we’ve been able to identify many of them:
A problem is usually easier to prevent than solve – and homelessness is no different. The VA and other agencies have recognized this fundamental logic with the release of the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) grants and the VA / HUD joint venture Veterans Homelessness Prevention Demonstration Program (VHPD).
These grants offer lower cost interventions that help veterans from becoming homeless in the first place by offering short term cash assistance (including help with rent and utilities). This model recognizes that for many veterans homelessness is a one-time, short term event.
That being said, there are many veterans who are already homeless and may have severe barriers to obtaining permanent housing (including disability, mental illness, substance abuse issues, and service-related trauma). These higher need veterans are better served by a more intense intervention: permanent supportive housing (PSH).
To this end the VA has partnered with HUD to create the HUD-VASH housing voucher program. This program gives chronically homeless and other higher-need homeless veterans access to the one thing they need: affordable permanent housing. The vouchers are similar to Section 8 vouchers but include case management for the veteran. This program also espouses a Housing First approach in some instances, whereby the veteran is afforded housing before other considerations are made or treatments take effect. The idea being that stable housing is the foundation necessary to address any other personal challenges. Although this solution is more costly than other interventions, it saves money over time by reducing and removing costs associated with long term homelessness (including incarceration, emergency room visits, high shelter use, and the like). And most importantly, permanent supportive housing ends homelessness.
Between prevention and housing, there is a middle ground approach which includes shorter-term housing and supportive service programs, of which the Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program is a good example.
These are programs that provide temporary housing along with other services (mental health, employment, and life skills, among others) that allow the veteran to stabilize and get the skills he or she needs to move out of homelessness and into housing stability. These programs are most effective when tied to a more clinical setting treating a specific disorder (including mental health conditions or substance abuse issues). These programs are quite popular, although not as successful as prevention and permanent housing programs.
All of these models have their place and purpose in the spectrum of ending veteran homelessness. The key is properly targeting the right veteran for the right service. With careful screening, each homeless veteran can be provided the services and tools that are carefully tailored to his or her specific needs.
While the challenge may loom large, the cause is more than worthy. In this month of November, with Veterans Day right around the corner, the Alliance encourages you to get involved with ending homelessness by engaging with us or with your local homeless assistance provider. For more information about how to get involved, please contact us.
For more information about veteran homelessness, please visit our website.