NVTI ARTICLE SERIES: JVSG COMPANION PROGRAMS
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the HUD-VASH program
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Veterans, like civilians, suffer from homelessness for various reasons, such as dealing with economic hardships or lack of affordable housing. On top of these difficulties, they may also struggle with challenges resulting from their time in the service. Research indicates that those who served in the late Vietnam and post-Vietnam eras are at the greatest risk of homelessness, but veterans from more recent wars and conflicts are also affected. For example, veterans returning from deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq often face invisible wounds of war (such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress (PTS)), which may lead to additional challenges that can result in homelessness.
The Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) Housing First Strategy
Significant progress has been made in housing our nation’s homeless veterans. This is due, in large part, to the Veteran Affairs’ (VA’s) Housing First strategic approach, which is to:
- Rapidly engage with veterans living on the streets, in cars, shelters or other unstable situations.
- Permanently house those veterans quickly.
- Provide wraparound supportive services that help them maintain housing, including mental health care, substance use treatment and job training.
Newly housed veterans receive case management and individualized supportive services to sustain their housing and build their lives. Many services are provided in veterans’ homes and communities by multidisciplinary teams composed of Department of Labor Veterans' Employment and Training Service (DOL VETS) staff from Jobs for Veterans State Grant (JVSG) Homeless Veterans Reintegration (HVRP) programs, as well as other veteran-focused agencies and local provider organizations.
Housing First has proven to be an effective and economical approach to reducing homelessness among veterans. It reduces costs for temporary shelters, emergency room visits and hospitalizations, and ensures that limited dollars benefit the maximum number of veterans and their families. By decreasing the frequency and duration of homelessness, Housing First means that more veterans have a safe and stable place to call home.
Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH)
Under the Housing First strategy, a collaborative program between two federal agencies combines Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rental assistance vouchers with VA supportive services to help veterans who are homeless (and their families) find and sustain permanent housing. The HUD-VASH program is more than a rental subsidy. Each voucher recipient receives ongoing support from VA case managers for issues such as recovering from substance use, connecting with community support, finding a reliable source of income, and dealing with barriers stemming from a legal situation or poor credit history. HUD-VASH staff members help the veteran find safe, affordable housing and then make regular home visits to ensure that the veteran is managing and benefiting from the services they might need to remain stably housed.
Among VA homelessness Continuum of Care programs, HUD-VASH has enrolled the largest number of veterans who have experienced long-term or repeated homelessness by awarding more than 97,500 HUD-VASH vouchers to public housing agencies since 20081. More than 800,000 veterans and their family members have been permanently housed, rapidly rehoused, or prevented from falling into homelessness by VA’s homelessness programs and HUD’s targeted housing vouchers since 20102.
Impact of COVID-19 on Veteran Unemployment and Homelessness
Since 2011, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness dropped by over 43%; the unemployment rate for veterans was 2.9% at the end of 20193. As the COVID-19 pandemic impacted U.S. communities and their economies in early 2020, that figure nearly tripled with veteran unemployment at almost 8% in July4 and dropping to just under 6% by October5. Housing advocates aren’t wondering whether the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will lead to an increase in homeless veterans, but instead how big the increase will be. Much of our country’s prior success is attributed to personal outreach and billions of dollars in federal, state and local community funding, but that work was based on face-to-face contact and a tax base that supported funding veteran homelessness programs.
Under the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing issues have necessarily curtailed those types of interactions. As many people work from home and stay inside, the economic impact on businesses has reduced tax revenue and constrained available funding for public programs. In many communities, that has meant getting homeless veterans into hotels and motels instead of more permanent housing. Government funding, while important, is likely to be limited in the near future, and available services are projected to be at capacity. In the coming months, long-term solutions for homeless veterans are expected to be a major issue.
Learn more about the HUD-VASH program by visiting the Veterans Experiencing
Homelessness HUD-VASH website and HUD resources at: