Friday, December 12, 2014

House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing highlights successes and challenges in ending veteran homelessness

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On Dec. 11, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing on Evaluating Federal and Community Efforts to Eliminate Veteran Homelessness. Nonprofit organizations focused on policy, housing, and service comprised the first panel; federal agency staff comprised the second panel. The first panel highlighted the success and progress they are seeing on the ground:
  • Since 2010, the homeless veteran population has declined by 33 percent, an unprecedented achievement which is a direct result of research-based interventions, federal leadership, and Congressional support and funding.
  • Having a combination of programs is working: HUD Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH), Veterans Affairs Grant Per Diem (GPD), and Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF). These programs together offer a range of supports and interventions to meet the varying needs of homeless veterans and give them the resources necessary to be stable and self-sufficient.
The panel also raised some policy recommendations which will strengthen efforts in communities nationwide:
  • Non-VA case management is necessary in many places. Getting linked with a VA case manager can be a lengthy process and in some areas, VA case managers are simply not available. Using community partners to provide case management would improve outcomes for veterans.
  • SSVF could be even more effective with a higher funding level; GPD would benefit from greater flexibility so that different communities could use the program to target their specific needs. 
  • Congress, federal agencies, and housing and service providers all need to understand the changing veteran population. While Vietnam veterans are the largest group of veterans currently, the number of post-9/11 veterans is rapidly increasing. Female veterans are also growing in number as are female veterans with children.
Lastly, the panel discussed concerns for the future.
  • In most areas, there is not enough affordable housing stock. Additionally, rental costs have been on an upward trend, and this trend will continue. Developing affordable housing projects is not a quick process because of the time necessary to locate sufficient resources. Additional supply is a key aspect of ending homelessness.
  • Significant progress will only continue to be made on reducing and ending veteran homelessness with continued funding and research-based programs. Congress and the VA also need to be thinking about how to prevent veteran homelessness and how resources will need to be utilized to maintain our achievements of ending veterans homelessness.
Panelists on the first panel were Baylee Crone of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Steve Berg of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, John Downing of Soldier On, Phil Landis of Veterans Village of San Diego, Casey O’Donnell of Impact Services Corporation, and Jon Sherin of Volunteers of America.

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