Approximately 80,000 individuals across the nation experience homelessness on any given night. Nearly 40,000, a staggering 50%, of these are veterans. Many of these individuals experience poor physical and mental health and consume a large portion of healthcare and public resources. In an effort to reverse this situation, 75 communities across the country are participating in the Built for Zero program with the goal of ending veteran homelessness through quick and efficient housing. It is having a positive impact. The Built for Zero national effort supports communities in developing real-time data on homelessness, optimizing local housing resources, tracking progress against monthly goals, and accelerating proven strategies. Here are five successful community-level strategies for promoting rapid access to permanent housing for veterans.
Coordinated Assessment and Entry Systems
Coordinated assessment and entry tools enable streamlined coordinated intake, assessment, and referrals for homeless veterans. In the past, homeless organizations provided services on a first come first served basis. With coordinated assessment, however, providers can use data to identify the best options for each veteran and their family and create a more efficient pathway out of homelessness and into permanent housing.
Locating and identifying homeless veterans requires an integrated approach. Community-wide coordinated outreach efforts proactively seek out veterans in need of assistance, share information across outreach teams and sites, and collaborate across agencies, including law enforcement, prisons, hospitals, and social services.
Shared Master List of Homeless Veterans
In order to successfully coordinate these services it is important to create a master list of all veterans who are known to be homeless and keep it updated. With this list, homeless service providers can work closely with community organizations and the local VA to coordinate and prioritize services and ensure that no veteran or their family falls through the cracks.
The Housing First philosophy provides vulnerable individuals with housing first, and then provides supportive services such as physical and behavioral health, substance abuse, and workforce services. Historically many housing programs required homeless individuals to prove their readiness to obtain housing. Implementing Housing First practices removes these unnecessary prerequisites and helps veterans and their families obtain permanent housing as quickly as possible. Then, after housing has been secured, supportive services are provided to help vets retain their housing.
Employment and income are central to avoiding homelessness in the future. In order to ensure that veterans stay successfully housed, communities work to increase connections by collaborating with Workforce Investment Boards, homelessness services and housing organizations, VA Medical Centers, and employers.
Eccovia Solutions is proud to partner with states, counties, and cities across the country in their efforts to eliminate veteran homelessness. One client, the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley (UWCV) in Columbus, Georgia, has used ClientTrack HMIS to help develop an innovative solution for ending veteran homelessness. UWCV is participating in the national Built for Zero program and has been successful in reducing the number of individuals experiencing homelessness by 24% over the last three years. How did they do it?
UWCV began by creating a master list of all known homeless veterans. They used the ClientTrack Query Designer to create a report of all known homeless veterans in their database, including contact information, time spent homeless, last known location, etc. This data was then shared via an online spreadsheet. UWCV now had real-time information about the needs of each homeless veteran but knew it wasn’t enough — they needed to collaborate with other agencies in the community. Armed with the ClientTrack HMIS platform, a full collaboration with these agencies was now possible.
In setting up the Built for Zero program in Columbus, UWCV established bi-weekly coordination meetings with all agencies involved in providing housing for veterans. Every meeting includes a review of the in-flow of veterans, the number of veterans remaining on the master list, and the number of individuals being housed. This data is then used to create individual plans for veterans within their communities which helps them obtain and maintain stable housing. (Participating agencies also sign confidentiality agreements to protect the privacy of homeless individuals.)
While many communities like Columbus, Georgia are leading the way to ending veteran homelessness, there is still a lot of work to be done nationwide. ClientTrack is an advanced Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and care coordination platform that enables communities to share data across agencies to develop community-wide and individual strategies for ending veteran and chronic homelessness.