In recent years, we have made substantial strides in housing veterans and preventing returns to homelessness. Those recent successes can be attributed to several factors, including a sufficient amount of investment, a clear focus on measurable goals and attainable system features, and the efforts of communities across the country to organize systems that assure ready access to low-barrier shelter and rapid re-housing assistance.
Research has found that the primary risk factors preceding homelessness among veterans are consistent with those for the general population: substance abuse, mental health problems, and income-related factors. However, these and other risk factors related to military service appear to interact to increase vulnerability to homelessness among veterans. Programs targeted to veterans integrate the separate systems of healthcare and other benefits managed and implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs with the homeless services system and providers of mainstream housing assistance.
What are the implications for policymakers and practitioners?
The remarkable reduction in veteran homelessness achieved in recent years provides some lessons for policy and practice:
- At the federal level, support robust funding for targeted interventions that link supportive services and affordable housing to reduce returns to homelessness among veterans (whether permanent subsidies as in HUD-VASH or short-term assistance as in the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program).
- At the local level, support continued implementation of community-wide crisis response systems specifically for veterans and organized by the local VA, providers, and Continuum of Care (CoC) staff that can identify and assist veterans with immediate access to prevention, shelter, and re-housing assistance.
- Involve the local VA in the CoC, and strive to ensure all homelessness assistance programs run by the VA and its grantees are fully integrated into the CoC.
- Establish measurable local goals for preventing and ending veteran homelessness and a timeline in which to achieve those goals. Build data-sharing relationships between housing organizations, the local VA, and service providers so all stakeholders can regularly assess progress against those benchmarks.
- To the extent possible, design programs that are responsive both to current circumstances related to housing loss such as loss of a job or health problems and to the unique characteristics and risk profiles of veterans from different eras and and types of deployment such as exposure to combat-related traumatic events.
Last updated December 2017