Homelessness spans across age, gender, ethnicity and race, and significant strides have been taken to mitigate and ultimately decrease the number of homeless veterans across our communities. The change in demographics serves as a constant reminder that considerable progress has been made.
Approximately 9 out of 10 veterans experiencing homelessness are men. While this number seems statistically significant, the total number of male homeless veterans declined by 3%. In contrast, the number of female homeless veterans rose 3%.
The number of veterans experiencing homelessness declined by 4% overall between 2018 and 2019, which correlates to a 6% decline in unsheltered veterans. During that same time, the number of African American veterans who were homeless remained roughly the same—however the total number of unsheltered African Americans rose by 4%.
Table source: 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress
Demographic Characteristics of People Experiencing Homelessness
Since the beginning of the 2019-2020 legislative sessions, state legislatures from coast to coast have introduced 79 bills that directly relate to the homelessness of veterans. Specifically, state legislation predominately focused around home loans, rental protections and adapted housing. Of the 79 bills introduced, 17 were fully enacted into law.
The Maryland General Assembly passed HB 12, which expands the eligibility for veterans to reside at veterans’ homes supervised by the VA. Eligibility was expanded to include veterans who received an honorable discharge from active service with a uniformed service.
In Washington state, HB 1754 allows religious organizations to host homeless individuals on outdoor encampments. The bill decrees and prohibits counties from specifically limiting a religious organization’s availability to host on its property while reducing or waiving permitting fees.
Through the VA’s approach of using various evidence-based practices such as Housing First, Getting to Outcomes and the Maintaining Independence and Sobriety Through Integration Outreach and Networking: Veterans Editions, the VA has been able to target veterans who struggle with comorbidities to assistance them in obtaining a reliable and safe roof over their heads. These practices are then transferred into programs such as the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers, Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program and Supportive Services for Veteran Families.
The HUD-VASH program, a collaborative program between the HUD and the VA, categorically emphasizes the “Housing First” model. In this program, veterans are given a housing choice voucher which is then paired with the VA case management and supportive service to help the veteran sustain the house and support in recovery from physical or mental health problems.
Under the Grants and Per Diem (GPD) Program, grants are awarded by the VA to community-based agencies to create transitional housing programs to offer per diem payments. The goal of the GPD program is to provide supportive housing and help homeless veterans achieve residential stability and hone their skills to better prepare themselves for a successful career.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, these programs have been especially constrained. However, included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, funding was given to HUD and the VA to better equip state and local officials in responding to the virus. Specifically, $300 million was appropriated in three critical areas:
- $202 million has been appropriated to provide emergency housing and homelessness prevention assistance to low-income veteran families to mitigate the anticipated wave of evictions and the potential homelessness as a result of unemployment. Such funds will also go to assist the HUD-VASH program to provide veterans a safe house to isolate themselves from the virus.
- $88 million has been appropriated to the GPD program, which allows the VA to waive per diem limits during the COVID-19 crisis and to help grantees provide all emergency housing and supportive services, which includes emergency placement for those who need to be isolated for their safety and that of others.
- $10 million will be appropriated to provide emergency shelter and supportive services, including placement in hotel rooms for veterans needing emergency shelter. Such shelter will be paired with care, treatment and rehabilitative services.
During this time, agencies are making it a priority to streamline procedures to allow for better and quicker access into the system. For example, the HUD-VASH program is looking to improvise its procedures and systems to help veterans more quickly secure safe housing.
The program is limiting face-to-face contact between staff and veterans, fast-tracking the process since many veterans are living in temporary VA treatment facilities while they wait for their permanent home. Additionally, the program is facilitating virtual meetings and tours with landlords.