Homelessness, State News, Supportive Housing

Ending Veteran Homelessness in Connecticut

 

Gabriel Zucker is the Associate Director of CT Heroes Project.

Ending homelessness has long been the lofty but elusive goal of advocates and service providers. Among veterans in Connecticut, however, we have a real shot at making this goal a reality — and soon. The Reaching Home Veterans Workgroup Strategic Plan, officially launched today, lays out the steps we’ll need to get there. Veteran homelessness has been intractable for decades, as hundreds of thousands of veterans came home from overseas to inadequate supports and insufficient treatment for health issues caused by their service. They weremarginalized, and came to represent a highly disproportionate share of the homeless, reaching nearly 100,000 at any given point in time.

But times have changed, services have improved, and nearly four years ago the Obama administration established the ambitious goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015. In perhaps one of the major unsung initiatives of this administration, the goal was backed with significant, research-supported programs: The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program has created over 50,000 vouchers of permanent supportive housing for veterans nationwide; the newer Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program now provides homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing assistance to 120,000 households annually. The result: despite a grinding recession, veteran homelessness has declined roughly 10% each year.

Connecticut now has over 600 HUD-VASH vouchers and over 900 annual slots of SSVF assistance — this in addition to hundreds of housing units and vast support already provided by the state Department of Veterans Affairs and other generous state and private agencies. With a point-in-time count of under 400 homeless veterans and fewer than 1,000 veteran experiencing homelessness over the course of the year, the resources are sufficient to meet the needs.
But we — and the country — are not there yet, and not yet on pace to make it to zero in 750 days.

The Partnership for Strong Communities and the Connecticut Heroes Project — a new initiative to end veteran homelessness in Connecticut — co-convened the Reaching Home Veterans Workgroup  this spring to provide the missing pieces. The group — including representation from VA Connecticut, the State Department of Veterans Affairs, DMHAS, DOL, housing advocates and developers, and major non-profit veterans service providers — spent six months examining all facets of the veteran service network, critically considering the gaps between programs, and researching best practices nationwide.

The group’s Strategic Plan (the Executive Summary was released November 5), and a full document with background research and data analysis will be available online shortly) outlines over a dozen major initiatives that will make the difference for our veterans. These range from a loan fund program for veterans’ security deposits, to a new statewide coordinator of veterans’ employment specialists, to the use of the HMIS database to improve outreach.

Taken together, our plan is simple but comprehensive. We aim to use data systems, user-friendly referral information, and careful interagency coordination to intake all veterans to a handful of strategic service portals. We propose a series of reforms to break down bureaucratic delays in accessing permanent supportive housing, so that veterans who need it can move into a subsidized apartment in under six weeks.

Then, on the back end, we outline a series of reforms to ensure that veterans receive high-quality employment services, so that many of them are able to become financially independent and quickly move out of the support system. Finally, we identify several smaller interventions to serve specific populations and needs, including a fund for veterans’ transportation and a halfway house for veterans leaving correctional institutions.

The challenge is still daunting — but our goal is achievable, and we owe to those who have served our country in uniform to follow through.

Gabriel Zucker is the Associate Director of CT Heroes Project.

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