HUD and VA Partner to Eliminate Veteran Homelessness

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Agencies announce third installment of housing vouchers, part of $68 million plan.

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One in seven homeless people in the United States is a veteran, according to a 2011 study. That amounts to over 60,000 American veterans who are homeless, according to the government’s most recent estimates.

Recently the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) teamed up to fight veteran homelessness by developing a jointly administered program.   The Housing and Urban Development–Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program combines services from both agencies, offering housing assistance through HUD on the basis of continued case management and clinical services through the VA.

As part of the HUD-VASH program, the two agencies recently announced a third installment of housing vouchers targeted to assist homeless veterans in five states. This installment of vouchers amounts to over half a million dollars and will be leveraged toward securing permanent housing for 110 homeless veterans.

Earlier this year, HUD announced that it would partner with VA to offer $60 million in vouchers to provide housing for close to 9,000 veterans. According to HUD’s most recent statement, the agencies plan on distributing $68 million worth of vouchers to assist 10,000 veterans with finding permanent housing. The money is distributed to local public housing agencies (PHA) to provide permanent housing solutions to homeless veterans.

According to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, HUD-VASH vouchers represent “a vital tool in [the agency’s] effort to provide these brave men and women with the earned care and benefits that help them live productive, meaningful lives.” The vouchers, she continues, “are vital to helping America end veterans’ homelessness one veteran at a time.”

This recent distribution of vouchers may help alleviate some of the pressure on non-profit organizations to cater to veteran’s needs. The Center for American Progress contends that the government must play a role in meeting homeless veterans’ needs in order to avoid placing an undue “burden on programs that serve vets, cut poverty, and rebuild the middle class.” The Center emphasizes, however, that looming uncertainty around Congress and the government budget poses a threat to homeless veterans.

The HUD-VASH program is part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to end homelessness among veterans by 2015. In the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness’s (USICH) strategic plan to end homeless, the President acknowledged that “there is still much work to do” in order to ensure that veterans “never find themselves on the streets, living without care and without hope.”

The USICH cites various factors contributing to the disproportionate rate of veterans who become homeless. Though veterans become homeless for many of the same reasons that non-veterans do, the agency finds that the high incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among veterans is key to understanding the unique challenges veterans face.

Other factors likely play a role as well. The agency found that 70 percent of homeless veterans struggle with substance abuse and over half have health problems. These issues coupled with the mental health problems that many veterans face may lead to employment barriers, interpersonal turmoil, or even criminal activity. According to the agency, half of homeless veterans have some sort of criminal history.

In order to obtain a housing voucher, homeless veterans must work with VA case managers, who screen the veterans for admission to HUD-VASH. The program provides for broad admission into the program, doing away with criminal and substance-based disqualifications typical of Housing Choice Vouchers, with the exception that any veteran who is subject to lifetime sex offender registration will be unable to obtain a voucher.  A veteran’s family members are also able to participate in HUD-VASH, provided they live with the veteran, HUD-VASH case managers approve the family member under the established VA screening criteria, and state-level PHAs verify their income eligibility and sex offender status.

Once homeless veterans have been deemed eligible for HUD-VASH vouchers, however, they may need to adhere to more stringent requirements. After a VA case manager approves a veteran, the veteran is referred to a PHA to redeem a housing voucher and secure housing. The veteran must then comply with any drug or criminal requirements the PHA, or other landlord, may have. Though the PHA is prohibited from initially denying housing to a homeless veteran on the basis of past criminal behavior or substance abuse, it is free to terminate the voucher if the veteran subsequently violates any of its specific requirements.

Once veterans receive housing vouchers, they are subject to specific conditions in order to keep the voucher. For example, veterans must continue meeting with the VA case managers and receive any treatment or services the case manager deems appropriate. If veterans or any of their family members do not comply with the conditions, the VA case manager will terminate the housing voucher.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), government funding and assistance is only part of the solution and is unable to eliminate veteran homelessness in its entirety. Due to limited resources of the government and the nuanced needs of homeless veterans, NCHV appeals to community members get involved directly and form support groups for local veterans.