End Veteran Homelessness

The Department of Veterans Affairs set a bold goal and plans to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Measured headway has been made, in large part due to private, local and nonprofit support, led by Community Solutions and the 100,000 Homes initiative. However, success in reaching that 2015 goal set by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is unlikely.

There has been some progress. The number of homeless veterans has declined every year since 2010. Phoenix, Arizona and Salt Lake City, Utah became the first major cities announcing they had eradicated chronic veteran homelessness. Phoenix first identified all 222 of its chronically homeless veterans and then took a “housing first” approach to swiftly place each veteran into temporary housing. Leaders in Phoenix attributed their progress to veteran “navigators” that worked to enroll homeless veterans in benefits and services that could help them stay off the street. Building on these successes, New Orleans became the first U.S. city to effectively eliminate veteran homelessness early in 2015, becoming the model for cities around the country looking to end homelessness, not just for veterans, but for every person needing a permanent home.

Despite the huge advances made in the last six years, there are still tens of thousands of veterans who remain homeless on a single night. The VA cannot solve this challenge alone. Veterans who struggle with substance abuse or were previously incarcerated are often unable to be placed in housing programs. Even more struggle to maintain a permanent home. In IAVA’s latest survey, seven percent of respondents reported that they were staying with friends or family because they were unable to afford rent. Housing and homelessness related referrals are among the services most requested through IAVA’s Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP); in 2014 alone, IAVA provided hundreds of veterans with housing and homelessness related support.

This generation of veterans is also challenging the traditional image of the single, male veteran that came to characterize homeless veterans following the Vietnam War. Many more of the homeless veterans today have families or are women veterans. Others are younger veterans who may just need temporary support. The VA must continue partnerships to align effective, dynamic services to these demographic shifts.

Military families and veterans also often face housing challenges frequently due to their military service. Weaknesses in the housing market forced many military families to sell their homes at a loss when their service requires them to move. From 2008-2010, the number of foreclosure filings located near military bases rose 32 percent, while national foreclosure filings rose 23 percent. Despite a recently strengthened housing market, continued emphasis on the issue from the public and private sectors is required to protect veterans and their families from foreclosure.

11.1: Prevent Veteran Homelessness
11.2: House Homeless Veterans
11.3: Fight Foreclosures on Military Families

11.1: Prevent Veteran Homelessness

Ending veteran homelessness begins by preventing more veterans from becoming homeless. In order to meet the needs of veterans who may become homeless, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) needs a more in-depth understanding of the numbers of veterans and service members at risk for homelessness.

Many veterans struggle to maintain a permanent home. Veterans returning from service or recently separated often spend time “couch surfing” or living with friends and family because they are unable to afford rent. In IAVA‘s 2014 Membership Survey seven percent of our respondents reported that they were staying with family or friends because they could not afford rent. While families can provide support to a transitioning veteran, some of these “couch surfing” veterans may exhaust their welcome or resources and become eminently at risk for becoming homeless. A broader understanding of the number of veterans just one closed door away from homelessness will allow the VA and partners to better prepare for the needs of those who may become homeless.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Identify and provide assistance to separating service members at risk for homelessness.

II. Establish and fund a partnership between the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Labor and community-based nonprofits, like Community Solutions, that will explore expanding the definition of homelessness to include marginally sheltered or “couch surfing” veterans.

III. Collect data on the number of chronically homeless veterans and the number of homeless veterans by conflict-era in the annual survey of homeless veterans conducted by the VA and HUD.

IV. Regularly report demographic trends among homeless veterans served by VA, HUD and other local homelessness services to better inform existing homelessness programs.

11.2: House Homeless Veterans

Although tens of thousands of veterans were homeless on a single night in 2014, there has been a decline over recent years. While the expansion of the HUD-VASH and Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program (SSVF) programs has increased the availability of permanent housing for veterans, veterans in many communities often struggle to find beds in temporary or emergency housing.

A FY 2011 Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups (CHALENG) Program report revealed that women veterans and veterans with families continue to face significant challenges in accessing temporary and emergency housing. These results are not surprising; in 2011, the Government Accountability Office reported that more than 60 percent of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) funded homeless shelters that are open to women will not accept children. Many more facilities struggle to provide a safe environment for either women or children. While the SSVF is a strong first step to support homeless veteran families, the VA must continue to invest in solutions for women, children and families.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Authorize new federal grants to subsidize specialized reintegration services for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children, including job training and placement, counseling, housing and child care.

II. Allow grants made by the VA Secretary for comprehensive services programs for veterans to be used for the construction of new multi-functional and permanent housing facilities.

III. Fund outreach that includes peer-to-peer support, such as the veteran “navigators” instrumental to ending chronic veteran homelessness in Phoenix.

IV. Develop a nationwide, online tool that allows providers, including VA shelters and grantees, to connect to one another and indicate when they have beds or vouchers available for homeless veterans on any given night. The tool will streamline the informal networks many social workers rely upon to house homeless veterans.

V. Continue to allow the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense and Housing and Urban Development to partner with and fund community-based nonprofits like IAVA, New Directions, The Jericho Project, Services for the Underserved and Community Solutions to expand services to homeless veterans.

VI. Conduct a study to examine utilization rates, service delivery and coordination, and the geographic disparities of veterans’ homeless and housing programs, including the distribution of HUD-VASH vouchers.

VII. Direct the Secretary of Labor to make grants to programs and facilities that provide dedicated services for homeless veterans with children. Require grants to be used to provide job training, counseling, placement services and child care services in order to expedite the reintegration of such veterans into the labor force.

VIII. Amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans. IX. Fund programs to support short-term housing programs for veterans previously incarcerated.

11.3: Fight Foreclosures on Military Families

Continued diligence is required to ensure that service members and their families are never again subjected to unfair treatment by mortgage lenders. In 2013, more than 700 military families were wrongfully foreclosed upon during the housing crisis. Across the United States, the rate of foreclosures in military towns was almost four times higher in 2008 than the national average.

Today, military families continue to face challenges in owning their own homes. Often required by military service to move, military families can be forced to sell their homes at a loss or balance the cost of their home with the need to find new housing wherever they are moved. According to a 2012 report published by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), 38 percent of military homeowners owed more on their home than their home was worth and 10 percent of military respondents reported that they were involved in a foreclosure process.

To prevent foreclosure, veterans and service members need better access to programs and services that provide financial literacy. According to a 2012 study released by FINRA, slightly more than one third of military respondents had participated in financial literacy classes while 90 percent believed that it should be taught in schools.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Aggregate best practices in retirement planning, debt management and VA home loan program home purchases. Fund locally based training programs in these practices hosted at community colleges and Vet Centers.

II. Allow for the consideration of VA benefits, such as the New GI Bill, as income for VA home loan eligibility determination.

III. Develop programs in which veterans can utilize guaranteed home loans (such as the VA Home Loan) to rehab and purchase foreclosed properties.

IV. Enforce stricter monitoring of lending practices to prevent predatory and abusive lending by loan agencies to service members and their families.

V. Regulate car dealers and payday loans within 100 miles of a military installation to prevent them from targeting service members and their families, thus weakening their financial security.

VI. Provide more accessible and clearer information about financial education opportunities to help military families make better financial decisions.