Cities Apply Lessons from Veteran Homelessness to Help Senior Veterans

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Last month at the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, NLC joined with Purple Heart Homes, the Housing Assistance Council, and The Home Depot Foundation to discuss the housing needs of senior veterans.

As cities respond to changing age demographics among the entire population, lessons from the progress on veteran homelessness are being extended to meet the housing needs of aging veterans.

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Representatives from (left to right) Purple Heart Homes; NLC; City of Fayetteville, NC; Meals on Wheels of Central Texas; City of Indianapolis.

In 2010, when the federal government updated the national strategy for ending homelessness by focusing, for the first time, on specific subpopulations, veterans were over-represented in the homeless population.

At that time, veterans comprised 11.6 percent of the homeless population, while being only 9.3 percent of the overall adult population. By 2016, veterans were no longer as dramatically over-represented, comprising 7.8 percent of the homeless population versus 7.4 percent of the overall adult population.

This progress was made not only because of the federal government’s strategic plan, but also because of resources being made available, efforts to improve coordination were enhanced, and local elected officials stepped forward to support community efforts through the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. The combination of these elements has resulted in veteran homelessness declining by 47 percent since 2010.

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A representative from The Home Depot Foundation speaks at the Veterans Aging Summit.

As local responses to veteran homelessness have improved, there is a unique opportunity to begin extending this historic progress into the other segments of veterans’ housing needs.

As with homelessness, data shows that veterans are significantly over-represented in the senior population. Nationally, in 2016, veterans are 7.4 percent of the total adult population, but 18.8 percent of people aged 65 or older.

Further, 49.9 percent of all veterans are aged 65 or older, while 17.4 percent of non-veterans are in the same age category. As a result of these dynamics, veterans and their families are on the front edge of needing to ensure their homes will allow them to safely age in place.

In response to these facts, Hattiesburg, MS; Fayetteville, NC; Oklahoma City, OK; Colorado Springs, CO; and Tacoma, WA are partnering with NLC, Purple Heart Homes, local credit unions, and The Home Depot Foundation, as part of a two-year effort to build and strengthen community capacity.

Other stakeholders critical to sustaining this work are coming from local VA Medical Centers, homebuilder associations, Area Agencies on Aging, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Vet Centers, city and county staff.

Important lessons learned to date through the work in these cities include:

  • Ensure all existing local home repair/modification programs administered by the city and/or local non-profits are asking the intake question, “Have you or any member of your household ever served in the military?”
  • Complement existing home repair/modification programs administered to serve unmet needs in the community. For example, city home modification programs are often funded by CDBG, which limits participation to people with incomes at or below 80 percent of area median income. Veterans who receive service pensions may be marginally above this threshold and yet unable to afford necessary home repairs.
  • Clearly identify roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder through the process of identifying veterans in need, determining a project’s scope of work, and the project’s need for skilled labor versus unskilled volunteer support.
  • Use the media to not only spread the word about local actions, but use news coverage to issue a call to action to the community to contact a lead partner about joining the efforts and recruit additional volunteers, particularly skilled laborers.

In 2018, NLC will continue to build these collaborations with local leaders to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home.

As with veteran homelessness, understanding the data and bringing together key stakeholders will be critical as cities work to better position themselves in response to one of the largest demographic shifts this country has ever faced.

If you are interested in your city being a part of this work, visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing and contact Elisha Harig-Blaine, NLC’s Principal Housing Associate (Veterans & Special Needs) at harig-blaine@nlc.org.

About the author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the principal associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter @HarigBlaine.

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