Federal Government Strategies to Accelerate Ending Veteran Homelessness
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a fact sheet on Veterans Day that outlines the Biden-Harris administration’s strategies to end veteran homelessness. In April 2021, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and VA Secretary Denis McDonough, the respective chair and vice-chair of USICH, instructed their staff, in coordination with USICH, to develop a set of strategies and targets to accelerate progress on ending veteran homelessness.
Following those announcements, the Department of Labor announced in June 2021 the award of more than $52 million in grants to help veterans experiencing homelessness return to meaningful employment and address the complex problems facing them. “As the nation continues its recovery from the pandemic, initiatives like these are more important than ever,” said Secretary Marty Walsh. “Our veterans deserve our best efforts to ensure they have a safe place to live, means to support themselves and their families and opportunities to pursue a fulfilling career.”
Administered by the Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS), Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) funding also supports Homeless Female Veterans and Veterans with Families (HFVVF) program and the Incarcerated Veterans’ Transition Program (IVTP) grants. “Those now or formerly in military service share the value that no one should be left behind,” said VETS Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary James Rodriguez. “The Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program reflects our commitment to ensuring that our veterans have and are prepared for the opportunities they deserve.”
Since 2010, the number of US veterans experiencing homelessness has been cut almost in half, from 74,087 in 2010 to 37,252 in 2020. Several factors played a role in this progress:
- Investments in veteran-specific programs
- A Housing First approach
- Strong leadership
Despite the overall decrease in veteran homelessness, data shows that progress has stalled since 2016. In addition, 50 percent of veterans experiencing homelessness in the U.S. are in regions covered by only nine percent of Continuums of Care. These high-frequency communities include large cities, rural areas, and suburbs, emphasizing the need for targeted approaches in certain parts of the country. Together, HUD, VA, and USICH are prioritizing strategies that work, including:
- Make Ending Veteran Homelessness a Top Priority. VA and HUD are prioritizing this effort at the highest levels. Staff in both agencies are working collaboratively to significantly reduce the number of veterans experiencing homelessness and to prevent veterans from experiencing homelessness in the future. VA, HUD, and USICH will also pursue targeted technical assistance in communities with the highest prevalence of veterans experiencing homelessness.
- Lead with an Evidence-Based Housing First Approach. Evidence and past progress on reducing veteran homelessness demonstrate a Housing First approach works. Both HUD and VA are reinforcing Housing First through targeted interventions such as HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH), Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), and Grant and Per Diem Program.
- Reach Underserved Veterans. HUD and VA are pursuing new approaches to serve veterans for whom prior efforts have fallen short. The targeted populations include veterans with other than honorable discharge status, Native American veterans (both on and off Tribal lands), and veterans who are women, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, LGBTQ+, aging, and living in rural areas by:
- Encouraging the prioritization of veterans who cannot be served by HUD-VASH, SSVF, or other programs for American Rescue Plan Emergency Housing Vouchers and Housing Choice Vouchers
- Enhancing residential homeless programs - including Grant and Per Diem programs
- Increasing the use of telehealth to equitably reach underserved veteran populations, including justice-involved veterans and veterans living in rural areas
- Increase the Supply of and Access to Affordable Housing. A significant obstacle to ending veteran homelessness is the lack of affordable housing, especially in many urban centers. HUD is using American Rescue Plan resources to increase the supply of affordable housing and ensure veterans have access. USICH is engaging with local governments to examine their inventory of affordable housing, including local veteran set-asides and preferences, to determine how affordable housing available to veterans can be expanded.
- Ensure the Delivery of Quality Supportive Services. Supportive services are critical to helping veterans find and retain housing. These integrative services serve as a platform for achieving health, recovery, and economic success for veterans.
- Prevent Homelessness Among Veterans. In addition to accelerating the pace of re-housing veterans who are currently homeless, VA and HUD are working to significantly reduce the number of veterans who newly experience homelessness through enhanced homelessness prevention efforts by:
- Expanding home retention options
- Expanding rental assistance to extremely low and very low-income Veterans who are homeless or at risk of being homeless; and,
- Supporting federal interagency efforts to prevent Veterans from housing loss due to evictions and foreclosures through American Rescue Plan resources.
In addition to these strategies, the Biden-Harris administration is calling on state and local leaders with the House America initiative. This initiative aims to re-house a significant number of people experiencing homelessness, including veterans, into permanent housing and to add new affordable and supportive housing units to the local development pipeline. As the federal government implements these new strategies, it is incumbent on Jobs for Veterans State Grant (JVSG) personnel and Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) grantees to be aware of and facilitate the integration of these approaches and funding support into their service areas to accelerate ending veteran homelessness.