Yes, this is a bold statement.
These are bold statements, especially when you consider that an estimated 131,000 veterans remain homeless today and that new veterans are becoming homeless at unprecedented rates after returning from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. When these statements were made, many cynics wondered if they should be added to the list of inspired, but ultimately unattainable promises made during campaigns, but left to the wayside and forgotten by the next term.
Instead, the federal government has increased public investments in the one programmatic solution capable of ending veteran homelessness in five years: Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH). This investment was made to expand the availability of permanent supportive housing for veterans through a program known as the HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD VASH) as well as through other new programs including a much-anticipated housing-based supportive services program that will for the first time provide VA funding to community-based non-profits to provide housing and services to homeless veterans.
More than 20,000 HUD-VASH vouchers have been allocated nationwide since 2008. An additional 10,000 vouchers were included in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. Like all permanent supportive housing, HUD-VASH marries affordable housing with flexible wrap-around supportive services using a case management approach. Those two functions are typically provided by community-based non-profits, however in the HUD-VASH program they are performed directly by local VA health centers and Public Housing Authorities. This structure creates some unique challenges. Many local VA’s are learning to provide flexible housing-based services for the first time, despite their experience providing quality health care services. Moreover, as many experienced PSH providers can attest, managing effective working partnerships between landlords, subsidy administrators, and services providers can be a tricky endeavor. As with any such marriage, the division of roles and areas for coordination must be continuously negotiated, and there will surely be conflicts and kinks throughout the process. Ultimately, HUD-VASH is an experiment in whether services in permanent supportive housing can be effectively provided by a primary health care system.
HUD-VASH has also opened the door to innovation by facilitating the creation of non-traditional partnerships and collaboration across systems. Housing developers are creating supportive and affordable housing buildings where some or all of the units are set aside for homeless veterans. In Rhode Island, the local housing authority is working to systematize this practice and is partnering with the VA Medical Center to project-base some of its HUD-VASH vouchers. There are many other communities looking at similar structures which will help to ensure that a full range of housing options are available to veterans.
Elsewhere HUD-VASH is facilitating innovative services partnerships. In New York City, a local non-profit, Jericho Project, has raised philanthropic funding to hire case managers to supplement the VA staff efforts under HUD-VASH to provide additional wrap-around services to participating veterans living in HUD-VASH subsidized units in the private rental market. Jericho Project staff assist veterans to access public entitlements such as public assistance, and resources to locate suitable units and help veterans transition to their new homes, including arranging for security deposits, furniture, and household items. They further supplement VA Case Management services with support for independent living skills, budgeting, accessing community resources, relapse prevention, family counseling, and crisis management.
The Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) is committed to ensuring that veterans receive the housing and supportive services they deserve. For this reason, CSH has been increasing its focus on assisting the US Department of Veterans Affairs, state and local partners, and community-based providers to expand, improve, and study permanent supportive housing for veterans. Our work includes providing program design expertise, project-specific technical assistance, training and capacity building, research and evaluation design expertise, as well as predevelopment and acquisition lending to organizations serving veterans.
Kelly Kent is Senior Program Manager with the Corporation for Supportive Housing’s Innovations and Research Unit. In this position, Kelly focuses CSH’s work around how to create systemic opportunities to provide permanent supportive housing to emerging sub-populations such as those exiting the criminal justice system and homeless veterans.