A few weeks ago, I traveled to San Antonio to participate in the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ (NCHV) 2012 Veterans Access to Housing Summit. Community leaders and government officials from across the country attended this event, and one theme consistently emerged – the need for local coordination to end homelessness among veterans.
With the federal government’s renewed focus and commitment to ending homelessness among veterans in the next 5 years, new resources have become available. Jeffery Quarles, Director of the VA’s Grant Per Diem program noted this fact and highlighted the ongoing need for local coordination in order to make these various programs work well together. Vince Kahn, Director of the National Center on Veteran Homelessness underscored the point. He discussed the need and challenge of ensuring that the right people are connected to the right providers, using the right resources at the right time to get the right outcomes and the right level of care.
A disabled veteran who loses work temporarily and becomes homeless for a short period of time may not need a permanent housing voucher. Conversely, a chronically homeless veteran is unlikely to maintain their housing without supportive services and some form of a housing subsidy. Ensuring veterans are connected to the resources most appropriate for their need does not happen without concerted coordination.
Fortunately, NCHV used the summit for the opportunity it was and had multiple sessions on this exact issue. National representatives from the VA engaged with summit attendees and outlined several steps they are making to increase collaboration with community stakeholders. First, national VA staff is asking community organizations to engage with local VA staff and, if necessary, coordinate with national staff to ensure local participation. National staff has issued an order to field offices around the development of a community engagement plan, but as of yet, there is not a specific staff person designated with enacting engagement plans.
To fill this engagement and coordination gap, community groups and city leaders need to proactively reach out to VA medical center directors, ask about their engagement plans and become partners with the VA to ensure the needs of veterans, particularly disabled veterans, are met. The VA cannot meet the needs of our veterans alone due to a lack of resources, but also because some veterans do not interact with the VA. Where federal resources are not adequate or appropriate, state and local resources, both public and private, are needed.
City leaders are ideally situated to use their positions and initiate a conversation about increasing collaboration with the appropriate community stakeholders. The experiences gained in addressing veteran homelessness must not stop there. The efficiencies found by coordinating community services can be extended to better serve other veteran and non-veteran populations, such as seniors, families, and individuals with disabilities.
In the coming weeks, NLC will be publishing several examples of how cities have helped lead collaborative efforts. Be sure to visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing to learn the details and practical steps that can be taken to ensure all of our veterans have a place to call home.