There are more than 18 million veterans currently living in the United States, making up roughly 7.3 percent of the population. With Veterans Day approaching, here’s how local leaders can work to ensure that all people who honorably served our country have access to a safe home, designed to meet their specific needs.
In some cases, helping veterans move from the streets to a home is the first, pivotal step. Since the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness — which NLC leads while partnering with federal agencies — launched in June of 2014, 78 communities and 3 states have shown that it’s possible to make Veteran homelessness a rare, brief and one-time experience.
For other veterans in our communities, we should focus on creating access to resources that allow them to renovate their home to accommodate a disability, or to help them age in place with dignity.
Municipal leaders looking to honor veterans by taking action on housing should make sure that their cities are doing the following:
Tackle Homelessness with Federal Housing Programs
For many veterans who are not “chronically” homeless, a relatively small investment and a connection to effective interventions are all that’s needed to put them on a path toward self-sufficiency.
The HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which combines traditional rental assistance vouchers with comprehensive case management, has been central to giving thousands of veterans the boost they needed.
The impact of this program on the veteran population and municipalities has been enormous: The total number of veterans experiencing homelessness was cut in half between 2010 and 2018, and as of 2018, more than 150,000 homeless veterans have been served through the HUD-VASH program. Housing retention rates have been higher, reoccurrence of homelessness has been made less likely, and emergency room visits declined for voucher holders. The “housing first” approach has been proven to work.
Given these results, it falls to cities to make effective use of this program’s potential to transform the lives of the community’s veterans. When it comes to implementation, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Boost effectiveness by pairing HUD-VASH with other programs
Local nonprofits can offer pivotal support to voucher applicants, such as by providing rapid re-housing, connecting them with health care and transportation services, or even by helping to cover moving expenses or a security deposit. Reinforcing the HUD-VASH program by connecting applicants to additional resources such as those funded through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program can drive real results.
Bring your landlord community members into the process early and often
Educate landlords about the range of support provided through the HUD-VASH program, such as targeted employment assistance and substance use counselling. Consider working with your local Public Housing Authority to proactively engage landlords and improve “lease-up” rates, or implement a Landlord Incentive Programs such as the one run out of the San Diego region.
Target your efforts to those most in-need and offer specialized supports
Coordinate closely with VA Medical Centers (VAMC) and community veteran organizations to direct HUD-VASH vouchers to veterans with the greatest level of need, such as the chronically homeless or individuals with compounding health challenges. And if appropriate for your community, make use of the Tribal HUD-VASH program, which offers specialized services for the Native American Veteran population.
Support Disabled Veterans and Facilitate Aging-in-Place
According to recent research from NLC, veterans are more likely to be homeowners, but are also more likely to have a disability and are generally older than non-veterans. This can lead to slips and falls, and calls to first responders that can be costly to a community, in addition to being dangerous for the individual.
This research also found that roughly 29 percent of veteran households have incomes at or below 80 percent of Area Median Income, so connecting aging and disabled veterans with specialized resources can be key to helping maintain the quality of life they deserve. Consider working with your local VA teams to do the following:
Connect senior veterans to the full range of long-term care benefits available
While many members of the veteran community are aware of the benefits available to them through the Veterans Pension and Survivors Pension programs, far fewer take advantage of supports specifically tailored to the aging veteran population. Make sure that your local staff are equipped to educate veterans about the Aid & Attendance program (A&A), which supplements a pension for those who require additional help to complete everyday tasks.
Help make veterans’ homes safer and more accessible
Whether they have a service-connected disability or as they age, many veterans could benefit from home repairs or renovations such as installing ramps, grab bars or railings. To help cover costs, veterans should be encouraged to apply for funding based on their living situation. Home Improvements and Structural Alterations grants are also available for specific home improvement projects often needed by disabled veterans.
City leaders should also promote the services of organizations like Purple Heart Homes, which has a program specifically designed for veterans aging in place, or Habitat for Humanity’s Repair Corps program, which is available to veterans in need of critical home repairs.
Give caregivers the support they need
A well-informed support network can be key to aging in place safely, so make sure caregivers are trained and prepared to meet the needs of their family member. Consider initiatives such as Building Better Caregivers by the National Council on Aging or the Caregiver Peer Support Mentoring Program and other resources provided by AARP.
By following these recommendations, local leaders can get their communities on track to honor veterans in one of the most fundamental ways possible: By making it possible for them to have a safe, secure and accessible place to call home in the country that they bravely served.
About the author: Natasha Leonard is a graduate student intern for the Center for City Solutions team at the National League of Cities. She is completing her master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. Follow her on Twitter @NatashaJLeonard.