The expansion of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) homeless programs since 2009 has played an important part of our nation’s strategy to prevent and end veteran homelessness, but there are challenges that remain. Veteran homelessness was once a prevalent and inescapable byproduct of the Vietnam War. It signified our failures as a nation and a community to provide strong support to our returning and transitioning service members.
At Swords to Plowshares, we have worked tirelessly to address this issue and meet the needs of our homeless veterans. In our dual role as a service provider and advocate, we fight to strengthen the systems of care for our veterans, and we are nationally renowned for our expertise and model programs. We opened our first transitional housing facility in 1987, and over the course of nearly 30 years of providing supportive housing, we have learned that helping homeless veterans is not a one-size fits all approach.
For more than two decades, the only program available to meet the needs of homeless veterans was the VA’s Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD). The program allows providers like Swords to Plowshares to help veterans from further de-compensating and it gives veterans the time needed to help them stabilize and identify permanent housing options for their future. However, the acuity of veterans participating in the GPD has increased, and the VA staff coverage on-site has been increasingly unreliable and inadequate. The success in the program relies on having VA staff on-site that can access VA medical records and coordinate care for the severely compromised veteran residents we serve.
In 2009, when the VA pledged to end veteran homelessness by 2015, we wondered if it would ever be possible to meet that goal, since we know the Grant & Per Diem Program does not address the needs of every veteran trying to come off the street and re-integrate into our community; The one size fits all approach of residential treatment for addiction and mental illness is not right for all veterans.
Holding true to the pledge of ending veteran homelessness, the VA greatly expanded the HUD-VASH and Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Programs in 2011. HUD-VASH addresses the long-standing need to house and support chronically homeless veterans, while SSVF pre-emptively addresses homeless instances— knowing what we know from the experiences of Vietnam veterans— can snowball into long-term struggles including chronic homelessness. This unprecedented investment in supportive services has allowed Swords to Plowshares and other service providers the opportunity to make significant strides in reducing veteran homelessness within our communities.
However, there is much work that still needs to be done.
Our executive director, Michael Blecker, was invited to testify on July 29, 2015 before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and was asked to provide recommendations on the Grant & Per Diem, HUD-VASH, and Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program.
In Michael’s testimony, he highlights each programs successes, its challenges, and Swords to Plowshares recommendations to improve the programs to better serve our nation’s veterans. Michael also addressed the challenges of reaching the most vulnerable veterans in the push to end veteran homelessness by explaining how the VA has placed some of the most vulnerable veterans beyond its reach and excludes them from VA services.
To read the full text of the testimony, watch video of the testimony, and find out more about the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, click here (http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/ending-veteran-homelessness07292015)
Kevin C. Miller
Kevin served in the United States Marine Corps infantry from 2002-2006 with multiple deployments to Iraq. He graduated from Humboldt State University with a BA in Recreation Administration and a minor in Business Administration.
He works at Swords to Plowshares as the Strategic Development and Communications Coordinator and his primary focus of work includes building partnerships between employment and training providers, relevant state entities, not-for-profit associations and private employers. Follow his work on Twitter and LinkedIn.