On particularly cold winter nights, many cities mount aggressive campaigns to encourage vulnerable adults living outdoors to come in for the night. City leaders or nonprofit groups elect to expand their community's shelter capacity, often with church basements or city facilities that aren't designed to be used as sleeping accommodations.
Individuals who seek shelter at these temporary overflow locations aren’t likely to receive much in the way of services, but they won’t be asked many questions either, which is often by design. The idea is to erect as few barriers to shelter as possible so that people will choose to come indoors when weather conditions are particularly dangerous.
And yet, these overflow shelters offer a unique opportunity for service providers to engage particularly vulnerable homeless veterans and others who might typically avoid emergency shelters. With Congress and the Obama administration providing unprecedented new resources to help veterans escape homelessness, this winter is time to take advantage of it.
Many cities and counties already have significant new funding for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which means they can fund rapid re-housing and provide housing search assistance, short-term rental assistance, and case management services for homeless veterans.
Permanent rent subsidies with supportive services are also available for veterans who face severe challenges to achieving housing stability, including those who have experienced chronic homelessness and who have a disability.
If you volunteer at or manage an emergency overflow shelter during dangerous weather conditions this winter, here are a few steps you should consider taking:
- Ask people who seek shelter at your location if they are veterans;
- Educate those who are veterans about new homeless assistance resources they may be eligible for and how they can apply; and
- Work closely with veterans to put them into contact with organizations that have new homeless assistance resources.
Alternatively, if you serve at a program that has new resources to assist homeless veterans, you should consider providing in-reach to these shelter programs to identify homeless veterans who may be eligible for your program’s services. You could organize mobile information units with concrete resources (socks, snacks, etc.) that will help facilitate conversations.
Another option would be to rely on peer outreach workers, veterans who are already receiving assistance from your program, to persuade others in these overnight programs to access assistance.
When it comes to veteran homelessness, we are living in a very unique (and exciting) moment in time. Many communities already have the resources on hand to end veteran homelessness. But it will take all of us working together to make sure that we make the most of this opportunity.