In 2010, the Obama Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a plan to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. The goal seemed unimaginable at the time, but communities across the country are making great strides in accomplishing the task by adopting a “Housing First” model.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness defines “Housing First” as “an approach to ending homelessness that centers on providing people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible – and then providing services as needed.“ While this new approach might make sense, it’s a departure from past efforts to address homelessness.
In a recent NPR article entitled “The U.S. Declared War On Veteran Homelessness — And It Actually Could Win,” Kevin Kincey, Outreach coordinator at U.S. VETS in Los Angeles, explains the policy shift. “It's about getting guys in housing first and then treating whatever ails them afterwards,” stated Kincey. “Back in 2005, to come into a program ... you needed to be sober. [Now] once you get in housing, if you need substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, they'll wrap that around you,” Kincey continued.
“Housing First” is Working
Due in large part to the “Housing First” approach, the veteran homelessness population has decreased from approximately 74,050 in 2009 to 49,933 in 2014 based on the national point-in-time count. And some communities have even reached “functional zero.” In the same NPR article, Melissa Haley, director of supportive services at Volunteers of America in New Orleans explains, “Homelessness is a continuous process. There's a veteran right now who is in a home who could very well be homeless tomorrow,” she says. “Functional zero is defined as having a process and the resources in place where we can immediately house a veteran.”
Besides providing stable shelter, “Housing First” also saves money. Prior to adopting the model, Utah was spending about $20,000 a year on each homeless individual according to a Washington Post article. That’s because the places where homeless individuals usually end up – temporary shelters, hospitals, and jails – can be very expensive. Since implementing the “Housing First” approach a decade ago, Utah officials estimate they are now saving $8,000 per homeless individual annually.
In Texas, the homeless veteran population has been cut in half - down from 5,491 in 2009 to 2,718 in 2014 according to the point in time count. On June 1, City of Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced that Houston became the largest city in the country to effectively end veteran homelessness. The announcement notes that the collaborative effort called “The Way Home Houston” housed 3,650 veterans in just over three years and put in place “the resources to house every homeless veteran (or those at risk of homelessness) in Harris and Fort Bend Counties.”
Others are hoping to follow suit statewide. The Mayors of these cities have accepted the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness: Austin, Corpus Christi, Crystal City, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Garland, Houston, Plano, San Antonio, and Waco. Hopefully, other communities will join the effort and meet the challenge of ending veteran homelessness.
On the House blog posts are meant to provide general information on various housing-related issues, research and programs. We are not liable for any errors or inaccuracies in the information provided by blog sources. Furthermore, this blog is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.