Rapid re-housing and homelessness prevention services offered by Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) providers have been incredibly effective when it comes to the work around ending veteran homelessness. To that end, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that it will make $300 million in competitive grant funding available for nonprofits that work with homeless and at-risk Veterans and are renewing their SSVF grants.
Several pieces of this announcement highlighted new opportunities for providers looking to improve the services they offer to program participants, and enhance their program's effectiveness and reach:
1. Define and Collaborate with Continuum of Care (CoC) Partners – The announcement requires applicants to describe the nature of collaboration with the local Continuum of Care (CoC) to coordinate services and utilize coordinated assessment or entry systems, and strongly encourages applicants to include letters of support from CoC partners. Grantees are required to participate in local efforts to end veteran homelessness. Underscoring the importance of this, for the first year ever, the announcement notes that grant funding may be used to support SSVF involvement in CoC efforts by subcontracting with the CoC for functions "essential to create or sustain the development of these data driven plans."
2. Focus on Housing Stability and Retention – SSVF is a crisis response program designed to start with rapid placement into permanent housing, followed by participation in services and supports necessary to help the veteran or their family remain housed. The announcement highlighted the importance ensuring veterans can afford to remain stably housed, noting that "both employment and benefits assistance from VA and non-VA sources represent a significant underutilized source of income stability for homeless veterans." Below is a short, but by no means exhaustive, list of several programs that grantees should be aware of and consider partnering with:
- Department of Labor (DOL)-funded Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) grantees offer employment assistance to homeless veterans. The funding notice strongly encourages service agreements between SSVF and HVRP grantees. If you would like to find your local grantee, a list of 2015 grantees is available here.
- VHA Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services (HVCES) has a local coordinator at each Medical Center, responsible for building relationships with local employers and employment services, and identifying and filling any gaps that might exist. To reach your local Homeless Veterans Community Employment Coordinator, you can look up their contact information here.
- VBA Homeless Veterans Outreach Coordinators (HVOC) are stationed at each VA Regional Office to help homeless veterans understand what benefits they might be eligible for and to assist with applications. Click here to find the contact information for your local RO to get in touch with a HVOC for assistance.
- Veterans with VA-guaranteed home loans, who are at-risk of foreclosure, may be eligible for foreclosure avoidance help from VA's Loan Guaranty Centers. Veterans should call (877) 827-3702 to get in touch with the nearest loan specialist to request assistance.
- American Job Centers receive funding for staff to prioritize services to veterans, especially those with service-connected disabilities. To find your local American Job Center, or learn more about the priority services they offer veterans, enter your zip code here.
- Mainstream benefits like TANF, LIHEAP, SSI/SSDI, and others should not be overlooked.
3. Increase Access to Legal Services – The funding notice specifically encourages grantees to provide or facilitate access to legal services for participants with legal needs that interfere with their ability to obtain or retain permanent housing. The American Bar Association put together a directory of pro bono resources for veterans, which may be helpful to grantees connecting participants to legal resources.
What does all of this mean? An old proverb says that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. This wisdom applies to serving veterans in SSVF.
It is critical that services for veterans are not only integrated into the crisis and housing response systems of each and every community, but that resources are optimized and available and that veterans have access to mainstream benefits and services offered outside of VA, and VA-funded programs. . Working in collaboration with local partners who offer services to homeless and at-risk veterans can help providers take their clients much further toward stable housing.
Application materials are due no later than 4:00 p.m. EST on February 5, 2016. Happy grant-writing!