A disproportionate number of those who have served in the armed forces have also been or remain homeless. In January 2014, 49,333 Veterans were homeless on any given night and 1.4 million Veterans remain at risk of homelessness.1,2 Despite these sobering numbers, collaboration with local community providers has made ending homelessness among Veterans a reachable goal. Almost a dozen cities nationwide have functionally ended Veteran homelessness, and Virginia recently became the first state to do so. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) has played a large role in achieving this goal, and stands as a critical resource in engineering homeless crisis response systems to meet the needs of Veterans.
Since its inception in 2011, SSVF has helped tens of thousands of homeless and at-risk Veterans and their families through grants to local nonprofit organizations (grantees). SSVF targets Veteran households earning less than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), and grantees provide a range of services to low-income Veterans in crisis, from case management to temporary financial assistance to prevent or end homelessness. This assistance, which is highly Veteran-driven, stabilizes with housing counseling and links to community-based and VA services, addressing barriers to stability and establishing a plan for preventing future crises.
In 2013, VA contracted with Atlas Research to evaluate grantee processes and progress toward meeting program requirements. Along with contract partners Abt Associates and Technical Assistance Collaborative, Atlas monitors conduct site visits to SSVF grantees, speaking at length with grantee staff about their work with Veterans and their families, and reports to VA on how grantees have helped local homelessness systems respond specifically to Veterans in crisis.
Atlas has helped support VA to significantly grow SSVF from 40 states to all 50 states and several territories. The number of Veterans served has almost doubled each year, and the program has helped 80 percent of all participants exit to permanent housing. In 2014, SSVF helped 34 percent of all homeless sheltered Veterans exit homelessness. In addition, SSVF has succeeded in helping the growing number of female Veterans; 15 percent of the program’s beneficiaries are female, which is the highest proportion of women in any VA homeless initiative.
“We are excited to be a part of this success,” said Atlas SSVF Project Manager Ade Adeniji, “and we are looking forward to providing more positive contributions toward maintaining these gains.”
SSVF grantees work closely with local partners to help develop coordinated entry systems for their communities to ensure that episodes of homelessness are as brief as possible.
“Community partnerships are key to effective service delivery and ensuring that Veterans are connected to the resources they need to be successful in housing,” explains Sami Rudnick, Atlas SSVF Quality Assurance Manager.
Grantees have developed innovative strategies to help Veterans obtain housing, such as engaging with landlords to find viable housing opportunities for Veterans. SSVF has also contributed significantly to data on individuals and families who are homeless and at risk of homelessness, a complicated area for research, by tracking participants and their specific situations. This data represents an important way to measure the effectiveness of homelessness service models, bringing the nation as a whole closer to ending Veteran homelessness.
Through tailored services, community collaboration, and comprehensive data, SSVF is a key driver of the 33 percent reduction in Veteran homelessness since 2010.
“Atlas is proud to help guide progress, and we continue to work hard in support of VA’s efforts to end and prevent homelessness among our Veterans,” said Hilda R. Heady, Atlas SSVF Program Manager.
“We all must focus on prevention strategies to sustain the gains made to date in the Ending Veteran Homelessness (EVH) campaign. SSVF is essential to maintaining the numbers of Veterans who exit homelessness and reducing the numbers of Veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless in the future.”
By focusing on housing first and promoting a data-rich approach to ending homelessness, SSVF has transformed social services to better assist Veterans and signifies a model for combating homelessness as a whole.
1 Veterans Health Administration Support Service Center, FY 2014, and United States Census Bureau, 2014
2 National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV)