Housing / 2013

Veteran Housing Retention Initiative

Veteran Housing Retention Initiative

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by U.S. VETS - Los Angeles

Ending homelessness among veterans has been the goal of U.S. VETS since its inception. Housing is the key to achieving success in the most basic needs of life. Without stable housing it is nearly impossible to maintain employment, family relationships, health and connection to society. U.S. VETS-Los Angeles has been on the forefront of serving homeless veterans in Los Angeles since 1993. The site opened a new permanent housing building in December 2011 increasing the number of affordable housing veteran beds available at the site to 660. Although the numbers have dropped significantly in the past 20 years, Los Angeles still remains the number one city for homeless veterans with between 6,300-8,000 veterans living on the streets—more than any other American city. Veterans represent a disproportionally high percentage of the Los Angeles homeless population at 20%. With the Obama administration’s announcement of its goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015 there has been a deliberate shift away from transitional programs that help homeless veterans address their issues and prepare them to re-enter the workforce and regain their economic independence. The current model of Housing-First favors putting homeless veterans into permanent housing and then providing mental health and addiction treatment. Not surprisingly, the prospect of permanent housing is very appealing to homeless veterans, especially if they are told that they can continue to use drugs and not risk losing their housing. In support of the Housing-First model, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) issued VA Supported Housing (VASH) vouchers for veteran to pay for the permanent housing. The VASH program quickly ran out of vouchers and the system was overwhelmed by more applicants than available funds. Even those who were approved ended up waiting for months for a VASH case worker to process their paperwork and approve the apartment. Once housed, most veterans had little to no follow up from the overworked VASH case workers. By the VA measurements, the program is a success because veterans are off the streets and in permanent housing. However, as a program that has the benefit of observing the transitioning veterans to our adjacent building, it has become quickly apparent to U.S. VETS that many of these veterans are not equipped to maintain their housing and thus enter back into the cycle of crisis and homelessness. Housing retention is the missing piece from the VA’s push to embrace the Housing-First model. Although that model includes case management to assist veterans after the move into permanent housing, the reality is that the local VA has exhausted its allocation for staffing and funding to serve the high number of veterans in need and are encouraging veterans to seek assistance from other community agencies. Our proposed LA2050 program will provide the wrap-around case management necessary to increase veteran housing retention rates. As operators of a transitional housing program that is actively working to meet a 65% transition rate to permanent housing, U.S. VETS-Los Angeles will already have established relationships with veterans moving into community permanent housing. Additionally, the U.S. VETS-Los Angeles outreach team connects with 1800-2000 veterans annually and makes referrals for housing and other services. The Veteran Housing Retention program will employ a Housing Retention Specialist who will follow up with recently transitioned veterans via personal visits and phone calls to make sure that they are maintaining their homes, budgeting their money, paying their rent/utilities on time, managing their health/mental health issues with the VA medical center. The income assistance provided by the VASH program was a successful motivation for homeless veterans to seek permanent housing. The U.S. VETS Housing Retention program will also offer a financial incentive in the form of tenant based assistance for security deposits, utilities and emergency supplies.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

10,000+ veterans served since we opened our doors in 1993. Our Supportive Services for Veteran Families program became a national model within its first year of operation in 2012. We consistently maintain an 80% positive transition rate from our transitional programs and a 75% sobriety rate. We are the largest veteran community in the U.S.A. with the capacity to house 660 veterans. Opened a 196-bed permanent housing in 2011 specifically to address the need for affordable housing for low and very-low income veterans

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

The Veteran Housing Retention program will work with the VA, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation, Employment & Education Department, California State Parole, HealthRight360. Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, Department of Public Social Services, Department of Child Services and Cloudbreak Communities.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

The program will be measured by the percentage of veterans who retain their housing for 18 months with a goal of at least 65% reaching that benchmark.

Additionally the program will measure the percentage of veterans who maintain their sobriety if in recovery. For those who are not in recovery the program will measure how many seek treatment or if relapse occurs whether they agree to return to treatment rather than continue using.

The program will reinforce the importance of steady income and therefore track the employment rate of participants. If veterans are unable to maintain their housing for economic reasons, the Housing Retention Specialist will work to transition them to a program or affordable housing rather than have them return to homelessness.

The program will be evaluated based on whether benchmarks for client success in the measurement areas of maintaining housing, sobriety and employment are met and modifications to the program design will be made based on the data.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Our Housing Retention Program will directly benefit 55 veterans and their families with helping them attain and maintain permanent housing. The program will provide up to $1,125 in tenant based rental/utility assistance. Additionally, these veterans will benefit from the continued clinical case management services and ability to address developing issues before they reach crisis mode. Los Angeles’ high rate of homeless veterans will be decreased by the addition of this program, and the rate of housing retention will increase. Some of the populations most at risk that U.S. VETS assists is veterans with mental health issues and histories of incarceration. In both populations, access to community support services has been proven to decrease the incidence episodes of care in hospitals and recidivism among the parolee population. Reducing emergency hospital episodes and lock up time saves the city and State tremendous amounts of funding that can be directed at other citizens.

As the veterans in the Housing Retention program succeed, they will be more engaged in their communities, with their families and their veteran peers. After 20 years of providing housing to veterans, U.S. VETS has seen the benefit to the community of veterans who become role models of positive behavior. They influence the behavior of their peers and their children in meaningful ways.

Once housing is stabilized, people are able to focus their attention on improving other areas of their lives including continuing education and participation in community and cultural experiences. Removing the stress of not having a sense of security in the basic human need of safe shelter will enable these veterans to improve their health and relationships with their families.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

No More Homeless Vets - period!