The Community Partnership developed a collaborative strategy to house more than 100 of the most vulnerable, chronically homeless veterans living on the streets or in emergency shelters through its “VASH Plus” Program. This collaborative effort involved multiple government agencies and community partners, including the District of Columbia Department of Human Services, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and D.C. Housing Authority. The program significantly reduced the wait time for housing vouchers available for homeless veterans through the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (VASH) program, and reduced barriers to housing for chronically homeless veterans with significant health challenges.
Problem or Challenge:
Many homeless veterans in Washington, D.C. and other parts of the nation are chronically homeless and living with significant health and behavioral health challenges. In past years housing assistance provided through the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (VASH) program has not always been targeted to veterans who are most in need, including those who have been chronically homeless and at risk of dying on the streets. Some of the most vulnerable chronically homeless veterans are not engaged in or willing to comply with the requirements of treatment programs available at local VA Medical Centers. The application process for housing vouchers often results in long delays or other barriers to housing access for chronically homeless people, and conventional case management services may not be enough to help these veterans achieve housing stability.
The VASH Plus collaborative partner agencies developed and implemented several changes to the traditional VASH approach with a focus on identifying the most vulnerable homeless veterans, streamlining and expediting the process for linking veterans with rental housing assistance, and tailoring support services to the needs of chronically homeless veterans with the greatest challenges. Some of these changes are briefly summarized here, and described in more detail in a case study that can be found at http://www.hudhre.info/documents/vashplus.pdf.
Using the Vulnerability Index, a survey was conducted to identify and prioritize more than 100 homeless veterans who were most at risk of dying on the streets.
The VA Medical Center and DC Department of Human Services (DHS) established an inter-governmental agreement to provide VA funding to DHS to pay for intensive case management services using a Housing First program model for veterans housed with VASH vouchers.
DC Housing Authority (DCHA) and Department of Human Services (DHS) collaborated to provide cross-training for staff responsible for housing applications and to streamline information exchange using an automated system to track the status of housing applications for all clients. The process worked to ensure that applications were complete and allowed many activities to progress simultaneously rather than in a linear process, expediting the approval process and streamlining access to housing.
The Community Partnership provided furniture and household supplies and cultivated strong relationships with local landlords to identify and inspect available housing units, making it possible for homeless veterans to select and move into furnished apartments within an average of two weeks after beginning the VASH Plus application process.
VASH Plus successfully housed 105 of the most vulnerable homeless veterans who had been identified through the Vulnerability Index survey. 87 percent of these homeless veterans are over the age of 60; 60 percent have a mental illness; 77 percent have a substance abuse problem; 57 percent have mobility impairments; 77 percent have a major medical condition. As of the end of 2010, all 105 veterans housed through VASH Plus remained in housing and engaged in services.
Engage key community partners in a proactive partnership: VASH Plus was implemented through a partnership that involved the VA Medical Center, Continuum of Care, and local public agencies including the Department of Human Services and the Housing Authority, as well as local landlords who all worked together to achieve the shared goal of providing housing solutions for the most vulnerable chronically homeless veterans.
Use flexible case management services and resources in a community system: The VASH Plus partners recognized that these homeless veterans needed a Housing First service model that would be both more intensive (with lower caseloads) and more flexible than the approach that has been implemented under the VA’s initial approach to VASH. An inter-governmental agreement allowed the VAMC to provide funding and define the quality and scope of case management services, while allowing DHS and its community partners to customize the service delivery model.
Create an inventory of housing options for prospective voucher recipients: The Community Partnership negotiated with local landlords to make housing units available for homeless veterans in the program. Some landlords agreed to allow furniture purchased by the Community Partnership to be delivered before a lease was signed. Case managers could show veterans several available units that had already passed housing inspections. Veterans could select their housing from among these units, and quickly move into a furnished apartment, instead of having to search for housing, negotiate with landlords, and wait for an inspection.
Contact Info for Follow-up:
A case study describing VASH Plus was prepared by The Cloudburst Group with support from HUD. The case study is available at http://www.hudhre.info/documents/vashplus.pdf
Evidence-Based Practice: Housing First
Evidence-Based Practice: Permanent Supportive Housing
Evidence-Based Practice:Rental Housing Assistance
Promising Practice: Vulnerability Index
Promising Practice: Streamlining Access to Housing
Model Program: Pathways to Housing (New York, NY)
Model Program: Housing First Rhode Island (RI)
Model Program: Chicago Housing for Health Partnership (Chicago, IL)