Each year, thousands of Americans transition from active duty military service to veteran status. But after fighting for our country, these men and women are more likely than civilians to experience homelessness. Though the reasons for this are varied, many veterans struggle to return to civilian life, placing them at increased risk of experiencing homelessness. On any given night, nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless.
In 2009, our federal government acknowledged the growing problem of veteran homelessness and proposed a solution. Then-Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki, in conjunction with President Barack Obama, established the audacious goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. We’re now more than halfway through the year, with only five months to go. So how are we doing?
Since 2009, nationwide veteran homelessness has decreased by 33 percent. Largely responsible for this reduction is the surge in funding, programs, and resources available to assist veterans experiencing homelessness, including VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). The program, which began in FY 2012, works both to prevent veteran homelessness and to provide rapid re-housing for homeless veterans and their families. SSVF provides financial assistance and a variety of time-limited services.
Last month, VA released the FY 2014 Annual Report on the SSVF program, which examines program data from FY 2012 to FY 2014. If we’re going to end veteran homelessness, reports like this are critical to aid the process. Only by analyzing the program’s data can we understand what works, what doesn’t work, and where we can improve services. Overall, the report’s findings were quite positive, demonstrating both that prevention and rapid re-housing are successful interventions.
Here’s a closer look at the findings:
- From FY 2012 through FY 2014, 138,538 veterans were served by the SSVF program. Of these, 61 percent received rapid re-housing, 40 percent received homelessness prevention assistance, and 1 percent received both.
- Of veterans who were rapidly re-housed, 73 percent of exited to permanent housing and had an average participation length of 102 days.
- In FY 2013, the vast majority of SSVF participants—between 85 percent and 95 percent (see graph below)—who exited the program did not return to VA homeless assistance programs within one year of SSVF exit. This outcome is particularly important, as it means that, once homeless veterans are rapidly re-housed, they tend not to fall back into homelessness.
- In FY 2014, SSVF renewal grantees exited veterans to permanent housing at a higher rate (81 percent) than new grantees (at 75 percent). They also achieved this with lower program costs: renewal grantees had an average per household cost of $2,794, compared to $3,342 for new grantees. This shows that SSVF grantees improve service provision over time, as they learn to administer prevention and rapid re-housing services more effectively and more efficiently.
This data is promising, particularly because it is a large study that includes outcomes from providers in varying environments across the country. In FY 2014, approximately $300 million in SSVF funding was awarded to 319 grantees in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two territories—and this number will be even greater in FY 2015.
Unlike many studies, which are able to account for only one type of geography or one type of participant, this report includes a wide array of communities and participants with varying barriers. It provides even greater strength to the notion that, with widespread funding and resources, we can end veteran homelessness.
Graphic from "Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) FY 2014 Report," U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.