After 30 years of widespread veteran homelessness, communities around the country are racing to end it by the end of this year. Some communities like Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, New Orleans, Houston, and Las Cruces, New Mexico have already announced that they’ve reached the goal.
How has the country suddenly gotten so close to bringing an end to veteran homelessness? We get this question a lot. The truth of course is that there’s nothing sudden about it. People have been working behind the scenes at the national, state and local levels for years to make this happen. Since 2009, they have reduced the number of veterans who experience homelessness on a given day by 33 percent. Here’s a look at how we got here.
- The right kinds of programs: Over the years, people who work on homelessness around the country—from service providers to homeless advocates to federal and local officials—have drawn on research and the lessons of high-performing communities to advance Housing First strategies for moving people quickly out of homelessness and back into housing. Homeless veterans have benefitted from all this learning, because the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has incorporated it into its array of programs serving homeless vets and their families.
- Rapid re-housing: Beginning a few years ago, Congress created the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program and the VA implemented it. This program funds rapid re-housing for homeless veterans and their families and also pays for homelessness prevention, though VA has rightly kept the program’s focus on re-housing veterans who are already homeless. Tens of thousands of homeless veterans have been successfully re-housed through SSVF. As communities move toward finally housing all homeless veterans, we expect the majority will be housed through rapid re-housing.
- Permanent supportive housing: The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program has also been essential in the fight against veteran homelessness. A Joint effort between HUD and VA, HUD-VASH is a smaller program in terms of the number of veterans it can house, but it’s the right tool for housing the minority of homeless veterans who have severe disabilities and have been on the streets the longest (i.e. chronically homeless vets).
- Funding to scale: For the past several years Congress and the Obama administration have agreed to improve funding for veteran homelessness programs, so that all homeless veterans can get the help they need. If we are to preserve the progress we’ve made to date, members of Congress must continue their support of these programs and not allow themselves to get bogged down in government shutdowns or constrained by unrealistic spending caps. (One important upcoming decision for Congress will be whether to loosen just such a spending cap on funding for the SSVF program.)
- Concrete local work: Ultimately, it’s up to local communities to take these and other resources and put them to work in an effective manner. This work is well under way in many communities. Mayors, nonprofits, landlords, VA hospital staff and many others are coordinating their contributions to the national effort to make a collective impact. And they’re being guided by technical assistance from VA and HUD as well as national leadership from the White House, Congress, and various other agencies charged with the task.
As you can see, ending veteran homelessness takes the contributions and know-how of a lot of people, but it’s important to acknowledge that in many cases veterans are taking the lead. It’s particularly gratifying to see older veterans standing up for those coming home from the more recent military conflicts in the Middle East.
The steps that communities have taken to end veteran homelessness will be the same steps for ending all of homelessness. But as more people see that homelessness is a problem with a solution, we hope that Americans will open their minds to the possibilities of expanding this historic effort to end homelessness not just for veterans, but for everyone.