Earlier this week, the New York Times Editorial board released a response to the effort to end veteran homelessness in this country. The board claimed that the results of the work to cut homelessness among veterans almost in half since 2010 reflects “shrunken ambition and mission failure.”
We disagree. There is a difference between mission failure and a mission taking longer than originally anticipated. And the ambition is there to continue working until we meet that goal.
We can simultaneously applaud the exceptional progress you – the providers, funders and advocates – have made and still recognize that the work must continue.
We applaud the success of The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program and your targeted outreach and commitment to ensure more veterans are being connected to housing faster than ever before. That is a huge accomplishment.
We recognize that on a single night in 2015, 47,725 veterans were experiencing homelessness. We know that there is still work to do.
Our progress on this mission
Why was the New York Times was even talking about veteran homelessness? Two weeks ago, President Obama announced a 47 percent decrease in homelessness among veterans between 2010 and 2016. The Obama Administration’s original goal was to end veteran homelessness by 2015. While we did not meet this goal, the 47 percent reduction is still incredible news.
To date, two states and 28 communities have met the federal criteria and benchmarks for ending veteran homelessness. Many more communities are working every day toward this goal. 2015 has come and gone, but this hard work is most certainly worth continuing, for the sake of the veterans and their families who deserve safe and stable housing.
Steps to meet the goal
If your community is still at the beginning (or in the middle) of this journey, here are a couple of things you can do to end veteran homelessness:
1. Use successes to inform efforts that are still in progress.
The homeless service system is committed to always finding innovative ways to keep people off the streets. There has been enough success that we know what needs to be done, but in some communities, the local VA and its grantees aren’t doing the things we know to work.
It is important to look at why some communities have succeeded and some haven’t. If there are communities where VA needs to hold its staff and grantees around the country accountable for doing the items below to end veteran homelessness, that needs to be a priority. Further, VA must make it a priority to identify communities that are struggling and step in with more intensive assistance where needed.
2. Work as a system to achieve collective impact.
On their own, community programs do good work to have an isolated impact on the veterans they serve. However; no one program can end veteran homelessness in its community. A coordinated, and collaborative response is required in order to have a collective impact and end homelessness across an entire community. This means all the partners, from emergency shelter, to transitional housing, to rapid rehousing, to permanent supportive housing and everywhere in between, need to work together to create a unified assessment and referral system, create a by-name list, maximize the use of its homeless resources and housing inventory, and get veterans and their families connected to appropriate housing interventions that match their needs.
3. Bring unconventional partners to the table to fill gaps.
Sometimes veterans are homeless solely due to a lack of affordable housing however; in many instances there are other underlying issues contributing to an episode of homelessness. The homeless system cannot and should not be expected to end homelessness alone. Providers and communities must involve other critical partners like health care, employment, local VSOs, local government, business partners, funders to provide an enhanced suite of services to accompany housing. They also need the help of a productive press that brings attention to the things they need to accomplish this goal.
4. Utilize best practices.
Homelessness should be rare, brief, and non-recurring. This means investing in proven solutions like housing first to increase exits to permanent housing and decrease the length of homelessness. This also means examining program rules and regulations to lower barriers in order to stop screening people out of housing assistance or exiting them for minor infractions. In addition, communities should examine their housing programs to get a better understanding of the role their transitional housing stock may be able to play in a housing-first-oriented system.
Communities that are continuing the hard work of ending veteran homelessness need all the support and encouragement we can provide. We here at the Alliance want to give a round of applause to all the communities that are still in the trenches, doing the hard work of ending veteran homelessness. If your community has not yet ended veteran homelessness, keep on pushing. We know you will get there soon!