10/31/2012 - Integrating StandDown into efforts to End Chronic Veteran Homelessness

A StandDown is a one to three day outreach event targeting homeless and at-risk veterans in a particular community, bringing together a plethora of services designed to meet their needs.  Such needs include respite, legal services, meals, clothing, hygiene, medical, dental and mental health services, benefits and employment assistance. This year alone, over 90 individual StandDown events have taken place across the country with communities reaching out to thousands of homeless Veterans.  In fact, these events have been going on since 1988, when the Vietnam Veterans of San Diego (now called Veterans Village of San Diego) held the first one of its kind.  In 2002, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) was asked to take on a nationwide leadership role toward expanding the model by providing guidance and technical assistance, which helped to build momentum for these events even further.  The NCHV StandDown Page is updated regularly with all the StandDowns occurring across the country.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently placed a stronger focus for its field teams on the need to prioritize its deepest subsidy program, HUD -VASH, for those experiencing chronic homelessness. They have embraced the 100,000 Homes Campaign and have been involved in the Rapid Results Bootcamps across the country, fully invested in the 100 day goals of communities. These Bootcamps are incredibly energizing for the communities that participate and have made a real difference in the lives of chronically homeless veterans. 

Many communities, however, continue to struggle to get their collective VAs, and its HUD-VASH program, to the table.  Change agents across the country could be missing a valuable opportunity to realize the change they seek by not integrating StandDown events with their other Veteran initiatives in their communities.

Case Study on Integrating StandDowns with other chronic homelessness initiatives

In Phoenix, the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness (AZCEH), had completed Project H3: Home, Health, Hope, its implementation of the 100,000 Homes Campaign, and set out to launch Project H3 VETS in response to the VA’s National call toward using HUD-VASH to house chronically homeless Veterans in a Housing First approach.  AZCEH leads the Arizona StandDown efforts and knew that this event had to be a part of catalyzing the initiative. The first initiative of Project H3 Vets was planned so that every homeless Veteran in Maricopa County would be surveyed in a Registry Week starting on Veterans Day, with the goal to house 75 chronically homeless Veterans before or shortly after the Arizona StandDown in February 2012. The Phoenix VA also quickly agreed to this housing commitment and to its staff working closely with AZCEH in this initiative.   

Commitment in hand, AZCEH set out to launch the Registry Week and coordinate partners to survey Veterans in the months leading up to StandDown.  AZCEH also retooled the StandDown registration process to include the critical elements of the Vulnerability Index determining those at most risk combined with chronic homelessness.  All partners (VA, Housing Authority, Human Services, SSVF grantees, etc) were already present at the event and thus simply needed coordination toward rapidly housing the most vulnerable.  AZCEH put the critical partners together in a back room and used the registration process of StandDown to collect the critical data and sent it to the back room for on-the-spot processing. When a Veteran was determined vulnerable, AZCEH sent their survey to VA personnel who determined eligibility for HUD-VASH.  When a match was made, the Veteran’s name was sent to a desk where Veterans were asked to check back 2 hours into the event (aided by volunteer guest guides provided by the Valley of the Sun United Way).  If a match presented, the Veteran immediately began processing for the HUD-VASH program and associated services needed to end their homelessness. Through this process, 25 Veterans received their HUD-VASH vouchers over the 3 day StandDown. Learn more about this “Super Bowl of HUD-VASH” here.

Since the StandDown in February, Project H3 VETS has met its original goal of housing 75 vulnerable and chronically homeless Veterans.  The data gathered from Arizona StandDown registration also aided in the expansion of the initiative, identifying 222 chronically homeless veterans the group is continuing to work with.  StandDown has also become an important barometer in the effort to end chronic homelessness with a plan to continue to use it, in addition to HMIS, HOMES and other sources, to gauge progress in the community’s efforts to end chronic homelessness. 

While many factors are involved in making change and suggesting that single events can “flip the switch” would be inappropriate, it is important to understand that StandDowns can offer a platform for such change and should not be overlooked.  VAs are often already invested in these events which can smooth the change path and lead toward greater changes long term.  Finally, the data that comes from the event can be used to advance plans to end chronic homelessness among veterans in your community. Consider ways you can integrate StandDown into your community’s response. 

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