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How Social Innovation Is Helping Homeless Veterans

  |  October 15, 2012

Creative approaches that businesses use to develop new products can also be channeled toward solving long-standing and intractable social issues. A case in point is the recent effort to house chronically homeless veterans in the U.S., as thousands of soldiers return to civilian life after extended tours overseas.

Back in 2009, U.S. Veteran Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki sparked these efforts by challenging federal agencies and communities to end veteran homelessness by 2015. Since that time, leaders at the VA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Interagency Council on Homelessness and other agencies have been experimenting with ways to help communities respond to the challenge. At the Rapid Results Institute, a nonprofit spin-off of our firm, Schaffer Consulting, we recently joined the 100,000 Homes Campaign (on the Community Solutions team) to help federal agencies organize Rapid Results Housing Boot Camps in San Diego, Orlando, and Houston.

During these Boot Camps, teams from 4-5 cities set “unreasonable” 100-day goals to accelerate the pace of housing chronically homeless veterans. Most of these teams included case managers and homeless program managers from the local VA, HUD field officers, and representatives from the Public Housing Authority, the local NGOs working on ending homelessness, and the Mayor’s office. And as the New York Times recently reported, the outcome has been dramatic. In New Orleans for example, the team worked to simplify paperwork needed to process a veteran’s application for subsidized housing, and unified the process across several regional and local agencies. In Detroit and Houston, teams set up a one-stop shop for homeless veterans, so their requirements for receiving support are completed in one day. In Atlanta, the team set up a competition among VA case managers to incentivize them to focus their efforts even more sharply on the most vulnerable veterans. Nine of the thirteen participating cities made dramatic gains; and four of them set a new benchmark for housing chronically homeless veterans — averaging more than one veteran housed each day during the 100-day period.