Ending Veteran Homelessness in Virginia: A Statewide Collaboration

November 8, 2018  |  Publications

In 2013, Virginia convened a state summit on veteran homelessness. The summit launched a year of research and a robust 100-Day Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in four communities. The Challenge evolved into a statewide effort that made Virginia the first state to reach a functional end to homelessness among veterans. The journey of community organizations, Veterans Affairs Medical Centers (VAMCs), and federal, state, and local partners is a blueprint for ending veteran homelessness in states nationwide.

Finding the Right Partners 

The Governor convened a Coordinating Council on Homelessness to direct the work on ending veteran homelessness. The Council included:

  • Local providers, non-profits, and community leaders 
    • Virginia Housing Alliance (a council co-chair)
    • Virginia Continuum of Care (CoC) members
  • Virginia state government agencies 
    • Department of Veterans Services
    • Department of Health and Human Resources
    • Department of Commerce and Trade
    • Department of Housing and Community Development
    • Department of Behavioral Health and Rehabilitative Services
    • Housing Development Authority
    • Employment Commission
    • Department of Motor Vehicles
    • Department of Social Services
    • Department of Corrections
  • Federal agencies intersecting with or funding their efforts:
    • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
      • Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) Homeless Coordinator
    • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
    • U.S. Department of Labor 

The Coordinating Council conducted a year-long planning effort to gauge the extent of veteran homelessness across Virginia. Using annual data collected by local homeless systems and provided to the state through CoCs, the Coordinating Council determined the communities with high rates of veteran homelessness. They then targeted those areas to end veteran homelessness in several cities. Informed by this new picture of veteran homelessness in Virginia, collaboration partners felt an urgency to end it in their state.

Taking the Challenge: Communities and VAMCs Drive Local Success

Governor Terry McAuliffe committed to ending veteran homelessness in Virginia by the end of 2015. This commitment was based on the Coordinating Council’s State Action Plan on Veteran Homelessness. The plan included rapid re-housing strategies employed in a previous partnership (with the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Virginia Housing Alliance) to reduce family homelessness in the state. The state also signed on to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

Four communities — Richmond, Roanoke, the Peninsula region (Newport News and Hampton), and South Hampton (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Suffolk) — signed on to the Mayors Challenge. They set ambitious goals based on service needs and community resources during a Rapid Results Institute/Community Solutions Boot Camp. VAMCs, CoCs, housing and homeless service providers, and public housing authorities shared best practices.

Using coordinated outreach, they identified by name every veteran experiencing homelessness and implemented a new Coordinated Assessment and Housing Placement system. The new system ensured appropriate housing matches were made and that providers were working with shared data and common language. During and after the assessment and placement process, providers connected veterans to income supports, employment assistance, and other supports and services to address mental health and substance abuse issues, trauma, and physical disabilities.

The four communities housed 462 veterans in 100 days, exceeding their goal by nearly 370 veterans. Collaboration was the key to their success. Public housing authorities provided information on housing resources (HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers, Section 8 vouchers, and other resources). Federally funded non-profits matched veterans with Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing, and transitional housing through the Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program.

This success demonstrated to other communities that ending veteran homelessness statewide was possible. During the 100-day Challenge, an additional 15 local officials signed on to the Mayors Challenge. The National League of Cities and HUD supported their efforts and, with local VAMCs and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) on board, they quickly replicated the initial collaboration to exceed their original goal.

Becoming the First State to Reach Functional Zero

The success of the 100-Day Challenge spurred the statewide effort to achieve functional zero — meaning that the community never has more veterans experiencing homelessness than it has demonstrated it can house in an average month. By the end of 2015, the state announced that it had reached its goal. Since October 2014, they have housed 4,000 veterans. The statewide point-in-time count of veteran homelessness has decreased 51 percent since 2012.

Following the examples set by the 100-Day Challenge communities, the state attributes its accomplishments to multiple factors:

  • Coordinated community outreach and a common assessment tool.
  • By-name lists of veterans experiencing homelessness.
  • Holding CoC Case Conferencing meetings.
  • Data-sharing among all providers and VAMCs — with one list of veterans experiencing homelessness — and prioritizing based on vulnerability.
  • Increased coordination and streamlined processes for appropriate housing placements.
  • Connecting veterans to mainstream resources and employment opportunities.
  • A commitment to Housing First principles.
  • Landlord engagement.

Collaboration Lessons

Connect with the DMV. When a lack of proof of residency stymied housing placements for some veterans, the state Division of Motor Vehicles offered licenses showing their residence — regardless of where they were living (in shelters or outside) at the time of application.

Streamline the Voucher Process. Prior to Virginia’s transformation, the Housing Development Authority oversaw a slow process for releasing the VA’s HUD-VASH vouchers. This process was made more regional so that case managers could more easily provide services that would facilitate appropriate housing placements.

Facilitate SSVF Program Payments. The creation of a homeless fund provided an option to wire funds to SSVF providers. This ensured expedited reimbursement when providers confronted a bottleneck in receiving payment.

Explore Partnerships. The state’s main power company, Dominion Power, started a pilot project to provide $500,000 per year in utility assistance for recently housed veterans.

Ease Data-Sharing. A Memoranda of Understanding between VAMCs and community partners ensured seamless data-sharing.

Ensure Gap Funding. When gaps in rural areas and in discharge status appeared, the collaboration fought for extra assistance: They still have $200,000 from state general funds for rural rapid re-housing and $200,000 for the Department of Veteran Services/Veterans Services Foundation.

Growing a Statewide Commitment

Virginia used the most effective strategies for ending veteran homelessness: a commitment to reaching functional zero from federal and state leaders; local leadership from VAMCs and mayors in communities with the highest levels of homelessness; and collaboration among local, state, and federal agencies laser-focused on ending veteran homelessness. Replicating their success on a large scale could end homelessness nationwide.