Five High Impact Steps for Mayors to End Veteran Homelessness

October 15, 2015  |  

Many communities have ended veteran homelessness, but work remains in other parts of the country. Mayors across the country are uniquely positioned to accelerate the progress of this challenge, especially in their communities. And it’s not too late to make an impact. Here are five proven steps that mayors can take today in order to ramp up and meet the demands of this national goal.

1. Establish leadership and decision making

There are many partners in the movement to end veteran homelessness, and efforts are undoubtedly underway in your community. Partnerships are essential, but diffuse, uncoordinated leadership and decision-making can reduce impact. Agreed upon leadership and decision-making are essential.

  • Convene the key players: Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center Director; head of the relevant Continuum(s) of Care (Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD]-funded homeless system); Public Housing Authority Director; and leading nonprofit agencies.
  • Agree upon the core elements of the approach (see below), and upon decision-making structure.
  • Dedicate significant staff, with authority to act on your behalf, to help disrupt the “business as usual” approach to homelessness within your own team.

The goal of ending veteran homelessness is doable but it requires clear numerical goals and a tight timeline.

  • Establish a target based on your current homeless veteran population or inflow data: (e.x. the number of veterans who are homeless, or will become homeless, by the end of the year)
  • Set the trajectory for the goal of ending homelessness:
    • How much of each core strategy is needed (see Strategies below)?
    • Who will deliver it?
    • Who will pay for it?
    • When will it be done?
  • Establish a time limit for homelessness (example: any homeless veteran, once identified, will be housed within 30 days).

2. Create accountability

Solid, shared data and performance benchmarks measure progress toward the goal and hold participants accountable. At present, different partners may use different data and benchmarks.

  • Establish the data system(s) to be used, and the entity(s) that will be responsible for collecting and reporting data – How many homeless veterans are being housed? How long is it taking? How many veterans remain homeless?
  • Create a system of regular reporting on progress; identification of problems; and use of collective knowledge to address issues or make course corrections promptly. To whom will these reports be made (see Leadership and Decision-Making above)?

3. Set a Timeframe

Achieving the goal within the timeframe will require peak effectiveness from program interventions. Resources will need to be shifted from less effective to more effective interventions.

  • Proven effective strategies are:
    • Outreach to identify and engage homeless veterans.
    • Crisis housing to keep people safe until they are quickly re-housed.
    • Rapid re-housing for those requiring less assistance, including linkages to services.
    • Permanent supportive housing for those with disabilities and long homeless histories.
    • Coordinated assessment and entry systems are necessary to get each veteran connected to the proper intervention.
  • Other, less effective interventions should be phased out and resources shifted to solutions.

4. Have a communications plan

A communications strategy is necessary to:

  • Maintain momentum by articulating goals and reporting on progress.
  • Engage key constituencies such as landlords, employers, veteran service organizations, philanthropy, the faith community, and the public.
  • Define what ending veteran homelessness means (example: veterans may have crises and lose their housing, but none will live on the street, and none will stay homeless longer than 30 days).
  • Challenge your local community’s misconception that veteran homelessness is a problem that cannot be solved.


Housing first

Housing is the platform veterans need to address their other challenges, so getting people into housing will be the first course of action.

Services as needed

Some veterans require on-going services, some temporary services, and some just a little financial help. While housing solves homelessness, service needs must also be met. The choice of which services to use, however, should be left to the individual veteran.

Employment is key

Veterans will require employment to afford housing and other basic needs and for personal fulfillment and well-being.

Leave no veteran behind

The goal is zero homeless veterans. There are strategies and resources to end homelessness for every veteran.

“We have shown that we can house anyone; our challenge now is to house EVERYONE.” – Secretary Shaun Donovan, Department of Housing and Urban Development