In a hotel basement conference room in Washington, D.C., late last month, representatives from 25 cities that have the largest veterans homeless populations break into small groups to discuss “take-down targets.”
The VA-organized brainstorming session is meant to fast-track removal of homeless veterans from the nation’s streets. Helping a homeless veteran get into subsidized housing often takes longer than four months and needs to be done in weeks, organizers say.
“We need some big leaps forward,” says Beth Sandor, director of quality improvement for Community Solutions, a national non-profit group that fights homelessness and poverty.
The guiding concept is “Housing First,” an idea first developed in New York during the early 1990s to fight homelessness and adopted by the VA for targeting homeless veterans a few years ago. The idea: Get a homeless person into an apartment and deal with drug, alcohol or mental health issues later. Put another way, take them off the streets — where life and health are perpetually under assault — and then work to solve the other problems.
“It’s kind of meeting the person where they are in their recovery as opposed to setting criteria that say, ‘You can’t live here unless you’re sober,’ ” Oaks says.
For the chronically destitute the key program is HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. It’s a voucher that permanently covers the cost of an apartment for homeless veterans, requiring them to contribute only up to 30% of whatever income they might receive from Social Security or the VA. In addition, the VA provides case management and support services.