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Ending Veteran Homelessness: Why HUD Programs Matter
Federal Policy Brief | November 21, 2013
On a given night in 2012, an estimated 62,619 veterans were homeless – 7 percent fewer than in 2011 and 17 percent fewer than in 2009. Recognizing that it is simply unacceptable for anyone who served this country to be homeless, the federal government has contributed significantly to this decline. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has set a goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015. In addition to funding homeless programs within VA, Congress has consistently demonstrated robust, bipartisan support for Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) homelessness programs that have prevented or ended homelessness for tens of thousands of homeless veterans. Without continued and expanded support for these HUD programs, we will be unable to scale up the interventions needed to finally end veteran homelessness.
The solution to veteran homelessness, like all forms of homelessness, is housing. While there are several effective, targeted veteran programs such as the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, many homeless and at-risk veterans have received housing assistance through HUD programs in recent years. Before ending in September of 2012, the Recovery Act’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) had served 31,918 homeless veterans (according to the most recent data available, September 2011).
In many ways, HUD programs served as a foundation and model for the creation of VA’s homeless assistance programs. HUD’s influence on VA programs is visible in the creation of the SSVF, joint HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program, and the transitional housing Grant and Per Diem program. For example, SSVF closely resembles the Emergency Solutions Grant program within HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, with its dual-focus on rapid re-housing and prevention, serving veteran individuals and/or immediate family members of veterans. HUD-VASH, modeled after permanent supportive housing programs within the Homeless Assistance Grant’s Continuums of Care ensures that chronically homeless veterans have the support system they need to remain stably housed.
HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants provide an important complement to VA’s efforts to end veteran homelessness. For various reasons, many veterans do not seek out VA Medical Centers for health care or other services, making it difficult for the VA system to identify and serve them. In these cases, the homeless assistance system – which has a great deal of expertise in solving homelessness for individuals and families with a range of needs – that serves these homeless veterans.
As the VA system becomes increasingly adept and able to address veteran homelessness, general homeless assistance funds remain a beneficial or even necessary complement to targeted veteran programs. For example, many local HUD-VASH programs rely on the flexibility of HUD homeless assistance funding to pay for rental applications or security deposits. This ensures quick and successful placement of homeless veterans into housing.
Ending veteran homelessness will require an increased investment in both programs targeted specifically toward homeless veterans and broader HUD homeless assistance programs. With sufficient funding, communities will be able to fully implement the bipartisan HEARTH Act of 2009 that reauthorized HUD’s Homeless Assistance Grants and make their homeless assistance systems even more efficient and effective. The HEARTH Act will also help communities to improve coordination with other systems, like VA, to reduce duplication and identify gaps. We all share a strong commitment to VA’s goal of ensuring that no one who served our country experiences homelessness, but in order to ensure we reach that goal by 2014, we must have a strong investment in HUD programs.