How Housing First Ends Veteran Homelessness

By John Meier, West Central Texas Regional Foundation – SSVF Program Manager

In early 2014, I was evicted from housing upon losing employment. Unable to pay rent, I began sleeping in my car while my children were able to stay with relatives. Because of robust veteran programs for health care and homelessness, though, I was able to get into housing quickly – and I have Housing First to thank for it.

At a routine appointment with my local Veteran Administration (VA) Community Based Outpatient Clinic, a nurse asked about my housing situation. When I answered that I was homeless, I was referred to a Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program for housing assistance, which provides Rapid Re-Housing assistance based on Housing First principles. Through this program, I was able to find housing quickly. It’s gotten me back on my feet and led me to where I am now: stably housed and stably employed.

What is Housing First?

Housing First is generally defined as, “a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues. Additionally, Housing First is based on the understanding that client choice is valuable in housing selection and supportive service participation, and that exercising that choice is likely to make a client more successful in remaining housed and improving their life.”

Housing First Works

As a veteran who has experienced homelessness, I’ve seen how well this works firsthand. I was provided housing assistance – even though I had no current employment, and had budgeting issues. I was able to find housing quickly with SSVF and then found employment; a continued search for better employment led me to work for the local SSVF grantee later in 2014.

Since March of 2014, I have worked with the SSVF program in my community to provide services grounded in Housing First principles for veterans experiencing homelessness, and I have promoted this method for all neighbors experiencing homelessness in the city of Abilene, Texas and surrounding areas. In our community, Housing First has been a success, and even helped us to reach functional zero for veteran homelessness in 2019.

Programs that operate under a Housing First model recognize that almost no goals can be achievable while basic needs like shelter are unavailable. When communities recognize their neighbors are in a housing crisis and make plans to support those exits from crisis, housing is always the first action needed. Then, continued planning can help to achieve stability for that household.

Housing First worked for me, it worked for my community in Abilene, TX, and it’s worked for thousands of other veterans across the country. Just look at the recent news: there is an 11 percent decline in veteran homelessness since 2020, and a 55.3 percent decline since 2010. Those are major numbers – and they wouldn’t have happened without veteran programs focused on Housing First.

With these continued declines in veteran homelessness, it’s clear that Housing First is the key to success.