By Monica Diaz, Executive Director, Homeless Programs Office
Veterans Health Administration | U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
Today, American life hardly resembles the country Eisenhower led. We have traveled to space, cured diseases and achieved other previously unbelievable milestones as a nation. Still, November 11 remains a sacred occasion, an enduring emblem of our nation’s responsibility and commitment to caring for the noble and brave servicemembers who have selflessly defended American freedom.
In cities and towns across America, Veterans Day is recognized with patriotic ceremonies, parades and decorations. While such displays are important and appropriate, Veterans Day is also an occasion for us to reflect upon both the sacrifices of Veterans and our collective obligation to ensure every American Veteran has a safe and stable place to call home.
Ending Veteran Homelessness: A Top Priority
The most recent Point-in-Time (PIT) estimate of homelessness, taken in America in 2020, revealed that more than 37,000 Veterans in the United States were experiencing homelessness. Of those Veterans, 50% were located in five states: California, Florida, Texas, Washington, and Oregon. This number is deeply troubling. No one who has served their country in the military should be without a home.
Between 2010 and 2016, collaboration between the VA, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and many other Federal, state, local and non-profit partners achieved a 47% reduction in Veteran homelessness. However, a Government Accountability Office report found that since 2016, progress has stalled.
HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and VA Secretary Denis McDonough – chair and vice-chair of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, respectively – have declared ending homelessness among Veterans as a top priority, and are leading an “all of government approach” to accelerate progress. They have outlined an ambitious and comprehensive approach to end Veteran homelessness based on 6 strategies:
- Make ending Veteran homelessness a top priority
- Lead with an evidence-based Housing First approach
- Reach underserved Veterans
- Ensure the delivery of quality supportive services
- Increase the supply of and access to affordable housing
- Prevent homelessness among Veterans
Read the joint statement from VA Secretary Denis McDonough and HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge on ending Veteran homelessness to learn more about how these strategies will be significant for thousands of Veterans and their families.
What Are We Doing to End Veteran Homelessness Today?
- Using targeted housing vouchers and VA’s homelessness programs to prevent homelessness. Since 2010, more than 914,000 Veterans and their family members have been permanently housed, rapidly rehoused or prevented from falling into homelessness through targeted housing vouchers and VA’s homelessness programs. In addition, 82 communities and 3 states have effectively ended homelessness among Veterans.
- Refining VA’s evidence-based and strategic homeless prevention and rapid rehousing plan to achieve faster and improved outcomes for Veterans facing housing crises. At the end of each year, VA staff review key performance indicators to determine which strategies and tactics are producing the desired outcomes and which need to be changed or eliminated.
- Encouraging use of SQUARES by homeless service providers to expedite access to VA care for homeless and at-risk Veterans. Please see https://www.va.gov/homeless/squares/index.asp for more information.
- Expediting progress in Los Angeles (LA), a city that accounted for nearly 10% of all Veterans experiencing homelessness in the U.S. In the latest PIT estimate. Secretary McDonough announced VA’s plan to help 500 Veterans experiencing homelessness in LA find permanent housing by the end of the year.
- Expanding telehealth access for vulnerable Veterans. By implementing and refining homeless telehealth policies and procedures, VA is helping homeless and at-risk Veterans by providing a mechanism for them to stay connected with their case managers, caregivers and other support during the COVID-19 national health emergency. More than 49,000 smartphones with time-limited data plans have been allocated to VA medical centers for distribution to eligible homeless or at-risk Veterans since the start of the pandemic.
- Increasing the maximum Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) shallow subsidy from 35% to 50% of eligible Veterans’ monthly rent to promote housing stability as the gap between incomes and rental costs in many communities continues to grow.
- Utilizing hotels and motels to safely shelter vulnerable, often medically at-risk Veterans from COVID-19. Between May 2020 and September 2021, the SSVF program placed nearly 32,000 homeless Veterans in hotels and motels.
- Collaborating with federal partners, grantees, and others on an ongoing basis to identify the most effective ways to deliver care to Veterans in need.
Calling on All Americans to End Veteran Homelessness
While VA’s current approach, which leverages the Biden-Harris Administration’s American Rescue Plan, supports ongoing efforts to rapidly rehouse Veterans and prevent those facing housing crises from losing their home, everyone can help end homelessness among Veterans.
This Veterans Day, I challenge every American to continue our nation’s commitment to caring for our Veterans by identifying one action that you can take to end Veteran homelessness in your community. Business owners can hire job-ready Veterans who recently exited homelessness. Landlords and property managers can join our fight by leasing their housing units to Veterans who use HUD-VA Supporting Housing vouchers to subsidize the cost of market-rate housing. Community organizations can serve as partners in conducting outreach and providing essential services for Veterans. Simply taking the time to learn about the risk factors of Veteran homelessness can help raise awareness. Every individual, from CEOs to elementary school students, can and must contribute to this critical mission. Click here to learn how you or your organization can help.
A Hopeful Future
Today, I reflect on the similarities between today and 1918, when a great wave of hope swept over the world. More than a century later, we find ourselves looking forward to emerging from yet another worldwide crisis. The pandemic’s consequences have spared no American, especially our Veterans at risk of or experiencing homelessness. We know at least 37,000 Veterans experience homeless on any given night in America; this number may not reflect the true consequences of the pandemic.
The number of homeless Veterans in America should be zero. My HUD colleague Richard Cho recently posed the question, “What Will it Take to House America?” I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment that investments in affordable housing and other evidence-based approaches are key. When we use American ingenuity and grit to work together, we can “become the America we want to be: an America where homelessness does not exist.”
Thank you for taking action this Veterans Day and beyond to help create this America.