Last Council Meeting of 2012 Focuses on Veterans, the Term Ahead

On December 11, members of all Council agencies, the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and the Associate Director of the Office of Management and Budget met together to recommit to the goals of Opening Doors and to chart a path forward in the second term of the Obama Administration. Leaders gathered at the Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss what's needed in 2013 and beyond, and also elected Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki as the new Chair of the Council and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan as Vice Chair.

The Council was pleased to be joined by Cecilia Munoz, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, who shared remarks with the Council on the term ahead, reaching our goals, and the support of the President in this work:  

“These are ambitious goals and we have real measures of progress. The results we've seen in the last year challenge us to build on these gains in an aggressive way…This is the right work to be doing.  This entire Administration is behind this effort; this work is incredibly important. We've got to get this done.”

This meeting was foregrounded by the release on December 10 of the most recent HUD Point-in-Time data. This data from 2012 showed a roughly seven percent decrease in both Veterans homelessness and chronic homelessness in just one year. Since 2009, Veterans homelessness has decreased by 17%. While these numbers are encouraging, the Secretaries and USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe made clear in the remarks and presentation that we must redouble our efforts if we are to meet the ambitious goals of Opening Doors. Speaking to the Veterans goal specifically Secretary Donovan noted that, “Reducing Veterans homelessness by 17 percent [since 2009] is a phenomenal accomplishment. The only reason it doesn't feel like that is because we set such aggressive goals; but if we didn't set such aggressive goals we wouldn't have gotten to that 17 percent.” 

In addition to the discussion about what is needed in the second term for all populations, there was a particular focus this meeting on Veteran homelessness. Dr. Dennis Culhane, whose presentation is summarized below, spoke as the Research Director of the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans on the trends in homelessness among Veterans, specific subpopulations to focus intervention on such as Veterans living unsheltered, and how best to reach Veterans who are unsheltered and those not eligible for VA services.

As we look towards 2013, participants reaffirmed the urgency with which all Council member agencies need to work. That same urgency and redoubling of efforts must also spur communities across the country, noted Barbara Poppe: “The federal government stand[s] shoulder to shoulder with local communities-supporting their efforts, learning from their practices, and focusing on their success. We cannot solve the problem of homelessness nationally if we don't solve it locally.” 

At the Council meeting, VA Research Director Dr. Culhane made a presentation describing the progress made toward ending Veterans homelessness. The 2012 PIT count estimates quantify that progress, with a 17 percent reduction in Veteran homelessness since 2009.  Speaking as the Director of Research for the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, he illuminated to the Council the way VA has redesigned programs and systems to more accurately assess and assign interventions to Veterans.

He highlighted that the reduction in Veteran homelessness has not occurred uniformly across the country: some communities have reduced Veterans homelessness by 40 percent or more and are on-track to meet the goal, while others are making slower progress. Accelerated progress across all communities is needed to meet the goal of ending homelessness among Veterans by 2015. There are also specific subpopulations that deserve particular attention: unsheltered Veterans and Veterans who are ineligible for VA benefits.

In addition, he shared critical actions needed to continue this progress and ultimately meet the 2015 goal. Some priority actions include:

Increased investments in HUD-VASH and SSVF;
Support for local ownership of the goal, effective resource targeting, and adoption of Housing First approaches; and
A commitment to increase access to mainstream housing and stabilization services, including for Veterans and family members who not eligible for VA benefits.

Finishing the job of ending Veterans homelessness will require continued investment in housing and health programs with practices that promote the right treatment for the right condition for each Veteran's needs and circumstance. Progress can accelerate with the widespread adoption of evidence-based best practices such as Housing First and Critical Time Intervention, resource targeting based on the needs of each Veteran, and collaboration across to provide increased access to mainstream housing, employment, income, and healthcare resources for Veterans. 

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