In a press release last week, the Trump Administration announced veteran homelessness in the U.S. continues to decline; the number of homeless veterans dropped 5.4 percent last year and by nearly half since 2010.
“The reduction in homelessness among veterans announced [today] shows that the strategies we are using to help the most vulnerable veterans become stably housed are working,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “This is good news for all Veterans.”
Good news indeed. In 2015, Virginia became the first state to functionally end veteran homelessness. That means every veteran has a home, except for those who were offered shelter, but declined. To date, 64 communities and three states have ended Veteran homelessness. Connecticut and Delaware joined the ranks in 2016.
Locally, how did we end veteran homelessness? In 2012, the Blue Ridge Continuum of Care began a transformation of its service system that included changes in strategies to more effectively reduce homelessness. This included strategies focused on providing targeted homelessness prevention services and rapidly re-housing those who become homeless. Another component included implementing permanent supportive housing projects that utilize the Housing First Model, an approach that prioritizes housing for the most vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness without pre-conditions such as sobriety or lack of criminal history. Participants are provided housing, first, then are connected to the supports and services needed to maintain housing. The Blue Ridge Continuum of Care also implemented a coordinated system for identifying, assessing and housing homeless veterans through the creation of the Veteran Housing Placement Team.
Between 2012 and 2018, the number of people experiencing homelessness has been reduced by 43.5% from 561 to 317. The number of veterans experiencing homelessness in 2018 increased by 15.6% over last year and has declined by 47.1% since 2013. Initiatives such as Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in 2014 and Roanoke’s participation in the Challenge brought additional attention and resources to end homelessness among veterans. In 2018 there were 37 veterans counted, all were sheltered and four were identified as chronically homeless+.
Where do we get these numbers? The annual Point-in-Time Count. Each year thousands of communities across the country conduct one-night Point-in-Time estimates of the number of persons experiencing homelessness – in emergency shelters, housing programs and in unsheltered locations. Nationally, this year’s estimate found 37,878 veterans experienced homelessness in January 2018, compared to 40,020 reported in 2017.
We also can rely on our Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) for data. We manage the system and train service providers in its use. This real-time data sharing system facilitates service coordination and allows providers to better serve individuals and families in crisis. While the Point-in-Time Count is conducted annually on a single day, the HMIS allows our community to analyze real-time, community-level data throughout the year. The software system is robust – and we now have all emergency shelter providers utilizing the system. That is HUGE. The addition of Rescue Mission last year, the Salem VA Medical Center this year, and RAM House entering data very soon, we are complete.
While we may geek out about data systems – numbers, charts, press releases – the real success stories are within the heroes we help. We are committed to providing effective services to our veterans and there is still work to be done.
We think HUD Secretary Ben Carson said it best:
“We owe it to our veterans to make certain they have a place to call home,” said HUD Secretary Carson. “We’ve made great strides in our efforts to end veteran homelessness, but we still have a lot of work to do to ensure those who wore our nation’s uniform have access to stable housing.”
Local information to prevent and end homelessness among veterans (and all populations) is available at endhomelessnessblueridge.org.
+Chronically homeless refers to an individual with a disability who has been continuously homeless for a year or more or has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years where the combined length of time homeless was at least 12 months.
+Homeless Management Information System is a local information technology system used to collect client-level data and data on the provision of housing and services to homeless individuals and families and persons at risk of homelessness.