Ending Veterans’ Homelessness by Next Year

Jun 17, 2014, 2:05 PM

Evidence-based practices and model homelessness reduction programs that have been effective in other cities are the key tools behind a new initiative, the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, launched earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The goal of the Mayors Challenge is to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.Close to 60,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Housing experts say the model practices and speed of their deployment can also serve as examples to greatly reduce homelessness in the general population—which can be as high as 3.5 million in any given year, according to HUD surveys.

Ending veteran homelessness has received increased attention in recent years. According to Eric Grumdahl, policy director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, there has already been a 24 percent reduction in veteran homelessness in the last three years that is directly tied to evidenced-based practices, including:

  • Housing First, a concept that eliminates prerequisites such as sobriety and minimum income before a veteran can be given housing.
  • Permanent supportive housing, which adds mental health services.
  • Rapid re-housing aimed at people who are homeless from time-to-time rather than chronically homeless.

San Diego and Phoenix were both recently cited by both HUD and the VA for effectively ending chronic homelessness among veterans.

In Phoenix, where one in five homeless adults was a veteran—about twice the national average—the city leveraged partnerships and local, state and federal funding to find housing solutions for veterans. Partnerships included state and federal government; the business and faith community; and non-profit groups. The city’s mayor, Greg Stanton, credits “a united front” and Housing First’s work to speed up placing veterans in safe housing.

In Salt Lake City, which recently announced that it has effectively ended homelessness for 100 formerly homeless veterans, solutions included promoting awareness of the problem. This resulted in landlords offering about 40 apartments and a decision to have VA staff work at homeless shelters several days a week so they could better interact with veterans in need of help.

Homeless experts in both cities say they will continue to monitor both formerly homeless veterans and veterans identified as at risk for homelessness.

The state of Colorado has not yet ended veteran homelessness, but last year under the direction of the state’s governor it reopened a formerly closed VA hospital and prison site, Fort Lyon, to provide housing and other services for the homeless at a staffed facility. The veterans are expected to stay for up to two years, during which time they not only have stable housing, but also access to health and addiction services and job training. What sets Fort Lyon apart, said Pat Coyle, director of Colorado’s division of housing, is that “often when people are struggling with drug addiction or alcohol abuse, remaining in their neighborhoods can derail efforts to change those habits.”

Fort Lyon can house up to 300 veterans and offers job and housing assistance through partnerships with local and state-wide organizations in the communities where the veterans would like to live.

>>Bonus Link: The state homeless resources map created by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness provides reams of statistics on homelessness by state, including the numbers of homeless veterans and state programs to assist them.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.