The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) did not accomplish its plans to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, but it has made some extreme progress. This is in large part due to private, local and nonprofit partners who have teamed with VA to implement a solution through the Supportive-Services for Veteran Families program and the cooperation of the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to house veterans though the HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) program. Continued financial support for these programs are critical to ensuring continued progress in decreasing veteran homelessness.
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.
The number of homeless veterans has declined every year since 2010, and in fact has dropped nearly 50 percent since 2010.90 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.
In 2016, we also celebrated passage into law of IAVA-backed legislation to provide 1,200 housing units and services at the West Los Angeles VA campus.
Despite the huge advances made in recent 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, three of four respondents reported they were without stable housing for up to a year. Housing and homelessness related referrals are among the services most requested through IAVA’s Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP); in 2016 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. Homeless veterans today may 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.92 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 most recent membership survey over percent of respondents did not have a permanent place to live when they transitioned out of the military.93 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.
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, 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.
Women veterans historically are at higher risk for homelessness. Providing safe facilities for women that will address their specific needs is critical. Ensuring these facilities also accept children is vital.
An FY 2015 Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups (CHALENG) Program report revealed that the top needs for homeless veterans (men and women) include child care, family reconciliation assistance, credit counseling and discharge upgrades. Met needs included medical services, case management, mental health support (including substance abuse treatment, and medication management. Many of these unmet needs can be addressed by partnering with community organizations.95 The VA must continue to expand its partnerships to address these needs and support for homeless veterans and their families.
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.
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. 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.
IV. Provide more accessible and clearer information about financial education opportunities to help military families make better financial decisions.