How Did We Achieve a 24 Percent Reduction in Veteran Homelessness?

written by Martena Reed and Emanuel Cavallaro
May 8, 2014

Here’s some more evidence that providing Housing First to homeless people works. As you may already be aware, between 2010 and 2013, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness on a single night in January decreased by 24 percent, going from 76,329 to 57,849. That reduction in veteran homelessness occurred in the midst of the Great Recession, an affordable housing crisis (which is still going on, by the way) and about 46.5 million people living in poverty.

How could this happen? Part of the answer is that the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) devoted more resources to ending veteran homelessness. Another other part is VA adopted the Housing First approach.

In this brief from the Veterans Affairs National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans (NCHAV), researchers explain the implementation of VA’s Housing First program that provided permanent housing to homeless veterans without first requiring them to abstain from substance abuse, achieve psychiatric stability, or complete treatment programs—then provided other services according to their needs.

Before the VA ever adopted the policy of Housing First, the NCHAV identified fourteen VA medical centers around the country to participate in a Housing First pilot, providing them with 700 housing vouchers under the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program and funding for services.

So, what did they find? They found that Housing First not only works, it’s a cost-effective solution. It took a little more than four and a half months for the veterans to move into housing after being admitted into the program, and 84 percent of participants were still in their housing after twelve months. More than a third of the veterans who left the program moved on to some other independent living situation.

After admission to HUD-VASH, the veterans’ emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and average length of hospital stay decreased substantially. And inpatient hospitalization costs—including hospitalization for mental health, substance abuse, and medical problems—decreased by more than half.

For more information, including demographic characteristics, check out the brief itself.

Graphic from the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans | U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, "Housing First Implementation Brief, April 2014."