photo source: bitfocus.com
By Kathryn Monet, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
Freedom is not free, and Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on that and thank those who served in the military for their service. At the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), we do that by building service provider capacity to ensure that all veterans can access housing. Everyone deserves safe, affordable housing, especially the nearly 38,000 veterans who were homeless on any given night in 2018 and the others who are at-risk of homelessness. The root causes of homelessness are as varied as the veterans they impact. Yet, homelessness among veterans has decreased by 50% since 2010. We know the solution is to help communities build systems of care that move people into permanent housing quickly and address the root causes of persistent poverty. There are three overarching challenges that, if addressed, will accelerate progress on veteran homelessness.
The biggest universal challenge related to ending veteran homelessness is housing affordability. High cost, low vacancy rental housing markets both make it easier for veterans to become homeless and harder for them to escape homelessness. Given the shortage of affordable rental units that has persisted across the country, we need to pursue an all-in strategy when it comes to securing affordable rental units for veterans, from developing additional multifamily complexes to setting aside units in existing complexes to pursuing landlord and realtor engagement to ensure the benefits of renting to veterans are known.
Another challenge is connecting the dots between upstream prevention in key systems and the inflow of veterans entering the homeless system. Employment and income supports such as Social Security, Veteran Affairs compensation and pension are a key intervention at every point in the journey that help veterans sustain a housing placement. However; transitions from other systems such as the military, the justice system, hospitalization and others can also create their own unique challenges for veterans. Transitions from the military without enough information on resource and program availability can lead to unnecessary struggles. Adequately planned transitions from the justice and health care systems that include housing placement and connection to health care, earned benefits, and any other resources required can reduce recidivism, health issues and homelessness.
In the same vein, we must not overlook the role the homeless system plays in recidivism into homelessness. We at NCHV believe that the housing first approach cannot be housing only, meaning that adequate supports must be offered and provided when requested to ensure housing stability for veterans we are able to place into permanent housing. Previous incidences of homelessness are the biggest risk factor for becoming homeless again, so transitions into permanent housing must include adequate supports to prevent recidivism back into homelessness.
The last challenge relates to fine-tuning a community’s system of care for homeless veterans. Some communities have been actively engaged in work to optimize their mix of resources and match it to the needs of veterans in their communities while others have not yet begun and operate a patchwork of programs layered atop programs. Communities need to analyze their data on who is entering the homeless system, from what locations or other systems, and at what rate, to ensure the design of their system of care is able to meet the needs of the veterans who will be using it. Conversely, they also need to examine who is exiting the homeless system, how, and to where, to ensure the system has adequate housing placements available to truly end a veteran’s homelessness. This examination must include a hard look at the role of systemic racism and other structural inequities built into the system of care in order to address them and achieve equitable outcomes across the veteran population in each community.
There is no good reason that a single veteran should be without a place to sleep at night, and I can promise you that NCHV will do everything we can to ensure every veteran has a place to call home. We are proud to call NHC a partner in the fight to end veteran homelessness and hope you will join us. To learn more about NCHV and our work, visit www.nchv.org.
You can join me to continue this conversation for a session on ending homelessness at NHC’s Solutions for Affordable Housing convening on Dec. 3-4 in Washington, D.C. Register here. I hope to see you there!