Ending Veteran Homelessness in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada: Veterans Affairs Medical Centers as a Key Partner

November 8, 2018  |  Publications

In 2010 and 2011, a national goal to end veteran homelessness made headlines across the country. Spurred by federal and local support, Las Vegas and the surrounding Southern Nevada region joined communities across the county to participate in the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness.

In 2015, the region was recognized for meeting this important benchmark.

To accomplish this goal, community partners followed a National Alliance to End Homelessness blueprint — Five Steps to End Veteran Homelessness — and met five federal criteria established by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH):

  • Criteria #1: Identification and assessment of all homeless veterans.
  • Criteria #2: Immediate shelter placement for any veteran experiencing homelessness who wants it.
  • Criteria #3: Provision of service-intensive transitional housing only in limited instances.
  • Criteria #4: The community has capacity to assist veterans to swiftly move into permanent housing.
  • Criteria #5: The community has resources, plans, partnerships, and system capacity in place should any veteran become homeless or be at risk of homelessness in the future.

Criteria #1: Identification and Assessment of All Homeless Veterans

Beginning in 2014, the VA Southern Nevada Health Care System’s Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) took on the new role of being the coordinated entry access point for veterans. The CRRC staff met weekly with Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) and Grant Per Diem (GPD) providers to remove existing program barriers to getting veterans housed quickly. Overcoming these obstacles was a key step in helping identify veterans who needed housing.

By June 2015, the community was ready to conduct the most comprehensive effort to identify every veteran experiencing homelessness. Together, partners organized a three-day event that brought together teams from various homeless outreach programs, the VA, and others. This outreach still occurs on a monthly basis.

Identifying each veteran by name and putting them into one data system ensured that the community would account for and secure housing for all veterans experiencing homelessness. The coordinated outreach team continues to meet weekly to cross-reference the list against the state’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and CRRC’s records.

In 2015, The Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) initially administered the Master List. After reaching functional zero (meaning that the community never has more veterans experiencing homelessness than it has proven it can house in an average month), they moved the Master List under the management of the CoC’s HMIS administrator. The VAMC works very closely with the HMIS team to update the Master List each week.

The Las Vegas/Southern Nevada coordinated outreach team identified 26 veterans experiencing chronic homelessness and not yet in permanent housing. In the three-month period to apply for functional zero designation, they were able to house 21 of them with the help of HUD–VASH. (These numbers are in addition to many more chronically homeless veterans that were housed outside of the three-month application period.)

Criteria #2: Immediate Shelter Placement for Any Veteran Experiencing Homelessness Who Wants It

Providing 24-hour daily access, the CRRC connected veterans who entered off the streets or contacted the VAMC through a veteran hotline number distributed community-wide. Every time the community identifies a veteran, outreach teams immediately take them to the CRRC, where VA staff members assess them, place them on the Master List, and then identify where the veteran will go.

From the beginning of the process, each major shelter in Las Vegas/Southern Nevada has collaborated to monitor housing stock and needs, reduce barriers to placement, assist veterans with navigation activities, and provide emergency intake (for longer shelter stays).

Criteria #3: Provision of Service-Intensive Transitional Housing Only in Limited Instances

Although CRRC offered a permanent housing option to every veteran who was eligible, veterans also had the option to choose temporary housing, such as GPD or bridge housing. To be more accessible to veterans who needed a temporary place to stay while on the pathway to a permanent housing placement, GPD and HCHV had to lower eligibility barriers. By January 2016, over half of all admissions (to VA Contract and GPD housing) went to bridge housing.

Criteria #4: The Community Has Capacity to Assist Veterans to Swiftly Move Into Permanent Housing

Effectively ending veteran homelessness required a commitment to the Housing First approach. During coordinated entry, every eligible veteran receives a permanent housing offer (SSVF or HUD-VASH). From the beginning of intake, veterans who choose services or treatment before entering housing still have a plan for moving into permanent housing.

CRRC was able to offer a permanent housing plan to every veteran. As a first step, veterans were offered emergency or bridge housing on the same day so that a permanent housing plan can happen quickly. To expedite processing, the local Public Housing Authority works with the coordinated entry staff at the CRRC.

In December 2015, the Las Vegas/Southern Nevada area met the federal benchmark for quick access to permanent housing, with an average of 76 days to place veterans into permanent housing. Despite inflow challenges, the region’s system has improved this metric: By June 2017, it was taking an average of 40 days to place veterans into permanent housing.

Criteria #5: The Community Has Resources, Plans, Partnerships, and System Capacity in Place Should Any Veteran Become Homeless or Be at Risk of Homelessness in the Future

The region’s success, in large part, came from constant communication among all relevant partners. The monthly meeting of the Functional Zero for Veterans Working group brings together the VAMC, SSVF partners, CoC partners, HMIS staff members, and other relevant collaborators. The frequent meetings allow them to course-correct and solve problems quickly.

Additionally, a Mayors’ working group meets twice monthly to increase affordable housing stock, develop a landlord strategy to guarantee appropriate housing, and address issues with current state or local legislation and regulations that are barriers to housing veterans. The group includes local municipalities, HUD, the American City Public Housing Authority, VAMC managers, the CoC coordinator, and other homeless service providers.

With authority and dedicated time to participate in the working group, two VA staff people have maintained a strong connection between the working group and the VA. Guided by a VA white paper on data-sharing, VA staff members have read-and-write access to the area’s HMIS.

At the time of their application to meet functional zero in 2015, the Las Vegas/Southern Nevada region housed 510 veterans over a three-month period. This number was less than the number of veterans (396) coming into the system over that same period. This achievement met the federal benchmark for having sufficient permanent housing capacity. The community continues to monitor its progress against the federal criteria and benchmarks every 90 days.

Maintaining Functional Zero

SSVF program providers described the evolution of their work after effectively ending veteran homelessness in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The challenge now, according to providers U.S. Vets and the Salvation Army, is to maintain a system that continues to end homelessness for veterans:

Getting to functional zero is not the hard part. Maintaining it is the hard part. We’re still housing as many people as we did when we were trying to reach functional zero. With our experience in reaching functional zero, we now know how to plan ahead.

Las Vegas and Southern Nevada accomplished a goal achieved by few other communities of their size: They achieved a functional end to veteran homelessness and have been working hard to maintain it for the past two years. The region continues to reveal best practices for maintaining an end to veteran homelessness. Most months they succeed, despite an inflow that is as high as it was two years ago.

With their collaboration, systems, and constant communication already in place, the community is ready to react quickly to local and national issues alike. Recent SSVF funding cuts have put the collaboration to the test. When federal funding priorities or local housing needs shift, the coalition has rapidly adapted its system, ensuring that Las Vegas and Southern Nevada can avoid ever seeing a rise in veteran homelessness again.