Veteran Homelessness - HRI Research Newsletter - Fall 2011

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Newsletters | November 23, 2011

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Quarterly Research Newsletter
Focus: Veteran Research 

Fall 2011 

 

In This Issue:
(1) Feature
(2) Interactive Tool
(3) Expert Q&A
(4) Survey
(5) Research You Can Use
(6) On the Alliance Blog
(7) Hot Links: Research to Digest
(8) Closing Quote
By The Numbers 
76,329
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Greetings and happy Thanksgiving!  

 

The Alliance's Homelessness Research Institute (HRI) is pleased to release the Fall 2011 edition of the Quarterly Research Newsletter, focused on veteran homelessness. Today's Feature describes the Veteran Supplemental to the 2010 AHAR. We also have an engaging Expert Q&A on homelessness among veterans with research, Dennis Culhane. An additional highlight is the Research You Can Use article, where we summarize a recent 100,000 Homes Campaign report about a survey on homeless veterans. And, of course, don't miss the regular newsletter item where we describe the latest Interactive Tool that can be found on the Alliance website.

 

Take a look at the newsletter's table of contents, In This Issue, on the left to link directly to a particular newsletter article of interest, or simply scroll down and read all the way through to the Closing Quote by Veterans Administration (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki.

 

We hope you find something of interest from today's content. When you are finished, please take one minute to share with us what you think or what you would like to hear about in future Quarterly Research Newsletter's by answering our survey questions to the left. And please share this newsletter with people who you think might be interested by clicking the box below. Thanks for reading and, again, happy Thanksgiving!

 

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featureFeature:
Veteran Supplemental to the 2010 AHAR 
 
Last month, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) released Veteran Homelessness: A Supplemental Report to the 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (Vet AHAR). The Vet AHAR provides estimates of the homeless population for both point-in-time counts and 12-month counts of the sheltered population. This report marked the second Vet AHAR released jointly by HUD and VA and, therefore, it is the first time that we are able to compare changes in homelessness over time using the estimates from the joint HUD-VA methodology (previously, HUD released an estimate in the AHAR and VA released an estimate in the Annual Project CHALENG Report).
 

Main Findings

 

The Vet AHAR found that on a given night in 2010, more veterans were homeless than in 2009 (76,329 compared to 75,609). Nearly 33,000 of those veterans were living on the streets, in abandoned buildings, in cars, or other places not intended for human habitation. Veterans make up nearly 12 percent of the total homeless population. Additionally, from October 2009 to September 2010, 144,842 veterans spent a night at a shelter or in transitional housing. About one-third of these veterans were sheltered in suburban or rural areas.

 

Report Contents

 

In addition to a chapter on the point-in-time and annual shelter estimates, the Vet AHAR has a number of additional informative chapters on veteran homelessness. These include chapters on: demographic characteristics (chapter 3), risk of homelessness among veterans (chapter 4), geographic location among veterans (chapter 5), how veterans access shelter (chapter 5), permanent supportive housing use (chapter 6), and trends from 2009 to 2010 (chapter 7).

 

To read a summary of the data in the Vet AHAR, see the Alliance blog post, "Veteran Homelessness: An Overview of the Data."

 

To see the full Vet AHAR report, click here.
 
To see the 2010 AHAR covering overall homelessness and nonveteran subpopulations, click here.
 
 
InteractiveToolInteractive Tool: Veteran Map and Table

 

HRI has interactive maps, calculators, and charts to improve understanding of concepts related to ending homelessness. Here is our latest tool:

 

Vet Interactive ToolThe Alliance recently released an HRI brief, Data Point: Veterans Homelessness in the United States, which provides key data on homelessness among veterans, including that there are 76,000 homeless veterans on a given night and 145,000 sheltered homeless veterans over a 12-month period. In addition to the Data Point brief, the Alliance website has an updated interactive tool that shows the state-by-state numbers. To view the Veteran Map and Look-Up Table, click here.

 

To see the Alliance's full library of Interactive Tools, click here.
 
ExpertQnAExpert Q&A with Dr. Dennis Culhane

 

Dennis CulhaneDr. Dennis Culhane has researched homelessness for over 20 years. He has authored or coauthored publications on wide-ranging topics in the field, from a study on incarceration among sheltered homeless populations to a costs of homelessness study to an age composition of the homeless population study. His recent research includes studies of vulnerable youth and young adults, including those transitioning from foster care, juvenile justice, and residential treatment services. In addition to his position as Dana and Andrew Stone Chair in Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Culhane is also Director of Research for the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans (The National Center). The Alliance sat down and exchanged a series of e-mails with Dr. Culhane about his work on veteran homelessness, which resulted in the below Q&A.

 

Alliance: First off, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to check-in with HRI, Professor Culhane. You do a lot of research work in the homelessness field, and I know recent work of yours has focused on homelessness among veterans. Would you share with us some of the latest data findings that contribute to our understanding of the veteran homeless population?

 

Culhane: At the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, we have recently published a couple useful reports. One is the AHAR Supplement on Veteran Homelessness, done collaboratively with HUD, which shows that about 10 percent of poor veterans were homeless in 2010, and that they comprised approximately 12 percent of homeless adults. This represents 145,000 veterans last year, including 13,000 young veterans (30 years and younger), many of whom are soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A second, more detailed demographic analysis of data from eight communities, and published in a separate report, revealed that the rate of veterans among the older homeless is striking: 30 percent of adult males 55 years of age and older are veterans. Other striking results - among the poor, women veterans have a higher risk of homelessness than male veterans, and poor veteran males who are under 30 have four times the risk of homelessness as their non-veteran peers. Also of note, we found that 26 percent of all poor black male veterans were homeless in just one year.

 

A couple interesting policy implications come to mind. First, supported housing targeting chronically homeless veterans can have a significant net impact on adult homelessness overall among people age 45 and over, who are the largest segment of the chronic homeless population. Second, prevention programs targeting young veterans are needed, and will need to grow as more soldiers return from the wars ending overseas.

 

Alliance: From the Vet AHAR you just mentioned, we also learned that veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to experience homelessness. Do we know what factors influence an increased or decreased risk of homelessness among the veteran population?

 

Culhane: We do not have definitive evidence to explain why veterans are at such greater risk. There are two leading sets of explanations, and both likely play a role, although we don't yet know which is more important. First, some young people who choose to enter the service may be relatively disadvantaged to their own aged peers prior to entering the military. For example, they may have lower educational achievement or otherwise have less labor market competitiveness. They may also have histories of personal disadvantage, such as higher rates of foster care involvement and juvenile justice system involvement as youth, higher rates of residence in economically isolated and poor neighborhoods, and some higher levels of risk behavior (i.e. substance use) associated with such disadvantages - all factors that may make them more vulnerable to homelessness once they leave the military.

 

The second set of explanations focus on the increased risk and vulnerability that may be associated with people's military service or returns from service, as compared to their peers. This includes problems with re-entering the labor market after a long absence, and family adjustment issues associated with returning from overseas after lengthy separations. Health problems associated with military service and/or re-entry to civilian life may also contribute to housing instability, including adapting to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI), risk behaviors that may have occurred concurrent or subsequent to service, including substance abuse or dependence, and other mental health problems. The National Center is engaged in several research projects intended to elucidate the relevant risk factors, in the hopes of being able to respond more proactively.

 

Alliance: Does research point to any differences that exist between the homeless veteran population and the overall homeless population?

 

Culhane: Research by Bob Rosenheck and others has shown, perhaps surprisingly to some, that homeless veterans are not very distinct from the overall homeless population, aside from a slightly higher average age. Of course, they are also more likely to be male, and to have higher rates of PTSD. But they have similar rates of behavioral health impairment otherwise. Recent work by the 100,000 Homes Campaign suggests that veterans are homeless much longer than non-veterans, but this is based on surveys of nonrepresentative samples of (mostly) unsheltered homeless adults, administered by lay persons, and based on self-report. Our research finds that veterans are nearly twice as likely to be among the chronically homeless population than nonveterans.

 

Alliance: What research is on the horizon from the National Center that we should keep our eyes out for?

 

Culhane: We have several important projects underway, including studies of homelessness risks among returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan, and among patients served throughout VA. We are hoping to deploy a risk-assessment tool that can be used to identify people for prevention interventions, at various points of contact with VA and the community. We are studying different service models, including ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of VA Supported Housing (VASH) and the Grant and Per Diem program (transitional housing). We are also looking at various types of prevention and rapid re-housing interventions that could be scaled up on a larger basis. The National Center is also working collaboratively with HUD to develop a web-based tool that will help communities to develop needs assessments and gaps analyses, based on HMIS and other data. And we are working to make sure that communities have enough data to support their targeting of veterans for assistance, including both VA and community resources. This includes expanded participation of VA-funded providers in local HMIS, and finding ways that VA can share important data with community partners.

 

Alliance: Okay, for a change of pace, I'm moving away from veteran-focused research for the last two questions. You were interviewed by renowned writer Malcolm Gladwell for a 2006 New Yorker article, "Million Dollar Murray." The basic takeaways of the article: homelessness is "easier to solve than to manage" and ending homelessness is cost-effective. In the article, Gladwell described your early work where you spent time in Philadelphia collecting data on users of the shelter system. You put together a first-of-its-kind client database (a sort of precursor to what we now know as HMIS). The database work helped to shed light on how we understand length of stay in shelters (i.e. your research found most people are there for only one or two days). The research pointed out that chronic homelessness drives shelter and other societal costs up. With this understanding, it follows that if chronically homeless people are housed, with the right mix of services, costs go down. Since this early work in homeless systems data management, practice continues to benefit from continually improving data collection methods and more sophisticated data systems. Now to my question: where does the future of data collection and data management lie? What will we know down the road from data collection that has yet to inform practice? Are there places that we can look to for exemplary work in this area?

 

Culhane: First, just an acknowledgement, that the data from the earlier work was developed by the City of Philadelphia and the City of New York, independently, as they sought to manage their comparatively large, publicly funded shelter systems; I didn't develop either system. They were generous enough to share it with me and my colleagues, and have continued to be valued collaborators on a variety of projects, including veteran-related work.

 

I think the future of data collection, as boring as it can sound at times, is actually quite exciting. Communities are getting much, much better at data collection. The AHAR this year had more than 400 contributing communities, out of a universe of about 440. And as communities become more dependent upon HMIS for planning and case management, I expect the quality to improve. It's unquestionably difficult to get consistent, quality data, especially considering the varied environments that we're dealing with, and the challenges of high staff turnover and often very brief client encounters in shelters. But, as the service activities become more professionalized, and focused on housing outcomes, in either the HPRP approach or with respect to permanent supportive housing (PSH), the data will become better and more critical.   When the homeless system was principally focused on providing overnight beds, with minimal focus on housing stabilization outcomes, the need for quality data was lower. That changes as we re-purpose our activities toward the greater timeliness of assistance, and improved outcomes.

 

There remains a major need for training of local HMIS managers and others in putting these data to use.   The field could benefit greatly from a regular set of training activities that teaches communities how to use their data in practical ways, and how to share meaningful results with providers, planners, and local officials and foundations. The more funders and our other community partners are persuaded that we know what we're talking about as a field, and that we know how to establish accountability, for both homeless programs and for programs that send people into homelessness (detox, jail, etc.), the more credibility and buy-in we will get.

 

Alliance: You are such an active researcher. With each passing month it seems there's a new publication released that bears your name. Please, take a moment and share with us: what motivates Dennis Culhane?

 

Culhane: The key to my apparent productivity is that I collaborate with smart and energetic people who are very productive! I have been fortunate to work with outstanding graduate students, faculty colleagues, and some of the best and brightest public administrators. Our work with public sector partners has been especially critical both because they usually have the key administrative data immediately available for analysis, and because they have demands for timely answers that require quick turnaround work.   That shortens the cycle of "research questions to data preparation to analysis to results to implications" dramatically, and may make us appear more productive than we are. (It's also a type of research that better suits my impatient and sometimes impetuous personality.) But I don't think that we are driven any more than our colleagues in wanting to get valuable answers to important questions, which I think is what motivates all researchers in this field.

 

Alliance: Well, we do appreciate the research and knowledge that you, your colleagues, and others contribute to the field. It is important work, contributing valuable answers to the field of homelessness. Thanks so much, again, for spending time with us. Best wishes to you and happy holidays!

 

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ResearchYouCanUseResearch You Can Use...
National Survey of Homeless Veterans

 

Policy relevant research, ready to be used.

 

Policy Environment

 

Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessnessset five years as the goal for ending homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless people. VA and HUD homeless assistance programs are working toward these goals. Information provided in the Vet AHAR (described in this newsletter's Feature Article) is intended to advance these federal efforts by providing data to help policymakers, practicioners, and the general public understand the extent and nature of veteran homelessness.

 

Research Background

 

The 100,000 Homes Campaign is a Community Solutions-led national movement of communities working to place 100,000 homeless people into permanent housing by 2013. In this effort, 100,000 Homes has worked with communities to collect data to help understand homelessness and to help accelerate the housing placement process locally. The data were collected through use of the Vulnerability Index survey instrument, which is a questionnaire that screens for health and social conditions linked to an increased risk of death among homeless people. This survey, conducted largely among the unsheltered population, collects data on age, health status, institutional history, length of homelessness, patterns of shelter use, and previous housing arrangements, among other data points. 

 

Findings

 

Earlier this month, 100,000 Homes released, National Survey of Homeless Veterans (NSHV) in 100,000 Homes Campaign Communities. The report describes compiled findings from 23,000 surveys conducted in 47 communities. The NSHV reported that, among the people surveyed, 15.2 percent were veterans. This is a slightly higher proportion of veterans than is reported in the Vet AHAR point-in-time data, which has the veteran population at 11.7 percent of the total.

 

One of the interesting findings in the NSHV report, though, is a finding on duration of homelessness among those surveyed who have been homeless for two years or more. The data compiled by 100,000 Homes suggest that veterans are homeless for longer durations than non-veterans. Among veterans surveyed, 62 percent were homeless for two years or more, which is higher than the 50 percent of non-veterans who reported that they were homeless for two years or more. Among this same population, the NSHV reports that the average length of homelessness among veterans is two years longer than that of non-veterans (9 years for veterans compared to 7 years for non veterans). As well, the NSHV report also suggest that homeless veterans, as a group, were more likely to report health and social conditions linked to an increased risk of death.

 

Research Put to Use

 

The 100,000 Homes' NSHV report's findings described above suggest that policy that prioritizes permanent supportive housing (PSH) that targets chronically homeless veterans is a solution that can have an impact on veteran homelessness.

 

Further Reading in the Report

 

The NSHV report also has other sections that describe the data collected in their survey on: health risks among veterans compared to non-veterans, health risks among veterans by length of homelessness, social risks by length of homelessness, and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

 

To read the report, click here.

 

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