05/21/2012 - Veterans in Focus: Beyond VASH

It has been nearly two years since Opening Doors was launched with the goal to prevent and end Veteran homelessness by 2015. Together, we have made great strides. From 2010 to 2011, there was a 12  percent decrease in homelessness nationally among Veterans, and in some places, that reduction was as high as 20 percent. Now more than ever, we need a stronger sense of urgency with over 67,000 of the nation’s men and women who served in our armed forces experiencing homelessness in addition to our Veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.  We need to continue to break down silos not just in the federal government but in state and local governments as well.

Opening Doors has stimulated unprecedented collaboration across federal agencies and spurred the adoption of best practices by federal agencies. Working on a bipartisan basis, the Administration and the Congress have worked to increase resources and to strategically invest these resources in programs that meet the needs of Veterans to help them avoid and exit homelessness. In turn, communities across the nation are collaborating across sectors and utilizing these increased and new federal resources to leverage local efforts and make progress on our goal to end homelessness among Veterans and their families.

Over the last four years, the increased funding and voucher allocations in the Department of Housing and Urban Development – Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing has led to progress and innovation across the nation.  Yet, HUD-VASH is just one of the resources communities should be focused on in their plans to end Veteran homelessness. There are an array of programs and services available to Veterans who are at-risk or experiencing homelessness.

USICH recommends that the key to ensuring that these resources are used to their fullest potential and most efficiently is for communities to adopt a Veteran-centric approach. When a Veteran seeks help or when an organization makes contact with a Veteran in need, the first step should be to understand that Veteran’s background and unique needs. There is no one size fits all solution and communities need to be prepared to provide the right response at the right time. Many partners in the community need to work together to make sure these interventions are ready and available when Veterans need them, but the Veteran should not experience these partnerships as disjointed systems. Partners should work together to connect Veterans seamlessly to the resources that best fit their needs from the broad spectrum of available resources.

As we move forward in our goal to end Veteran homelessness by 2015, we need to strengthen our strategic partnerships across the public and private sectors. Just like we are doing at the federal level, communities need to set incremental targets, measure progress toward the goals, and implement strategies that will enable your community to achieve these goals. As has often been said, “what gets measured gets done.”

This newsletter is focused on providing communities the knowledge of how to unlock available resources in their communities beyond the HUD-VASH program. For this issue, we spoke with the Department of Veterans Affairs about their portfolio of programs to serve Veterans at-risk of or experiencing homelessness, we created three example profiles of Veterans explaining how resources can be coordinated to meet needs in a Veteran-centric way, and we interviewed leaders in Massachusetts about successful local programs for housing and services and female Veterans

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