More than 10,000 people registered for the Homelessness and Housing First webinar hosted by NLIHC, the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) on March 20! The webinar, “Housing First Serves Veterans and Promotes Recovery,” provided an overview of how the Housing First approach has resulted in deep reductions in the number of veterans experiencing homelessness across our nation and how Recovery Housing fits into the Housing First approach. NAEH CEO Ann Oliva moderated the webinar.
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, expressed his support for the Housing First approach, which has been credited with reducing veteran homelessness by 11% since 2020 and by over 55% since 2010. “We have had a lot of success getting more veterans into permanent housing over the last decade, and these numbers make clear the Housing First approach works,” said Chairman Tester. “Veterans have the best chance of getting back on their feet when they have a safe place to call home.”
Representative Mike Bost (R-IL), chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, highlighted the success of federal veteran homelessness programs, including HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) and Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), which are based on the Housing First model. These programs have been instrumental in reducing veteran homelessness over the past decade. “This Congress, we will continue working to not only get veterans housed but keep them housed and provide them with the support they need to keep them from falling back into homelessness,” said Chairman Bost.
Representative Mark Takano (D-CA), ranking member of the House’s Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, stated that committee Democrats are committed to protecting U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) resources and services. “This includes taking the necessary steps to preserve evidence-based Housing First principles, a key tool in the fight to prevent and end veteran homelessness,” said Ranking Member Takano. He noted that Housing First does not mean “housing only.” Rather, Housing First empowers the VA and its partners to quickly house veterans experiencing homelessness and then provide the wraparound services they need to remain housed.
Ann Oliva noted that, as evidenced by the recorded remarks from members of Congress, support for the Housing First approach in veterans’ programs is strong and bipartisan. She encouraged advocates to remind lawmakers that Housing First has been critical to reducing veteran homelessness over the last decade when speaking with them about the need to preserve Housing First.
Monica Diaz, executive director of the VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Homeless Programs Office, highlighted the department’s success in reducing veteran homelessness over the last decade and described the key components that have led to this success: Housing First, federal resources, and the VA’s comprehensive portfolio of services. “We practice, believe, reinforce, advocate and say proudly that Housing First is at the cornerstone of every action, program, and initiative because we know that it works,” said Monica Diaz.
Shawn Liu, director of communications for the VHA Homeless Programs Office, defined Housing First and explained the guiding principles of the approach. He emphasized that Housing First includes wraparound services but does not determine who is “housing ready” or demand treatment prior to housing. He discussed the VA’s 2023 goals for preventing and ending homelessness and highlighted how 83 communities and three states have achieved an effective end to veteran homelessness.
Ann Oliva commented on the lessons learned from the successes in reducing veteran homelessness. “This shows that when we have leadership at the federal level, leadership at the state and local level, resources to scale, and good policy and program design, we can actually make the progress that we need to make on veterans, and take what we’ve learned with veterans and apply that to other groups,” she said.
William E. Higgins, Jr. – executive director of Homeless Advocacy for All, at-large officer with lived experience on the Maine Continuum of Care (CoC) Board, and board member of the National Coalition for the Homeless – shared his experience as a veteran who was formerly unhoused. He described how Housing First helped him obtain and maintain housing, emphasized the importance of robust funding for supportive services, and discussed his homeless advocacy work.
Dr. LaMont Green – director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) – shared his personal story of being a veteran who experienced homelessness and addressed how Housing First combined with culturally responsive interventions can help support people experiencing homelessness with substance use disorders. Dr. Green spoke about the effectiveness of the Housing First model and how combining the approach with interventions like supportive housing, harm reduction, recovery supports, and on-demand substance use disorder treatment can help address overdose deaths.
“Often, critics of Housing First complain that it does not accommodate people who want to pursue recovery from substance use, but in fact, as an approach, Housing First is usually tailored to the needs and choices of people who are experiencing homelessness, so it does in fact support the choice to pursue recovery,” explained Ann Oliva. “Housing First supports choice, and choice is incredibly important for folks who are in recovery from homelessness or want to be in recovery from substance use or other challenges in their life.” The Housing First model is premised on choice and provides people in recovery with several options – including supportive housing and recovery housing – to address their health and housing needs. When recovery housing is operated to center individual choice, Housing First and recovery housing can be complementary, not in conflict.
NAEH Chief Policy Officer Steve Berg wrapped up the call by sharing how advocates can take action in support of Housing First and against criminalization. Steve encouraged advocates to urge their members of Congress to support robust homelessness funding, Housing First, and a cost-of-living pay increase for frontline homeless service workers.
Resources Discussed on the Webinar:
- Housing First Resources (NLIHC)
- Housing First Fact Sheet and Tools (NAEH)
- Take Action! (NAEH)
- Sign NAEH’s statement of principles against the criminalization of homelessness!
- VA 2023 Goals for Preventing and Ending Homelessness
- Boosting the Power of Harm Reduction: Creating a Comprehensive and Culturally Responsive System of Care Serving People Experiencing Homelessness with Substance Use Disorders (TAC)
- Recovery Housing Policy Brief (HUD)
Register for the next Homelessness and Housing First webinar taking place on Monday, April 17, from 2:30 to 4 pm ET. Register at: https://bit.ly/3vIbn5o
Homelessness is a crisis in many communities – one that demands urgent action. To end homelessness once and for all, federal, state, and local governments must invest in proven solutions at the scale necessary to address the problem. The Housing First model is one of the best strategies for ending homelessness. Housing First recognizes that affordable and accessible homes are the foundation on which people thrive, and by combining housing with access to supportive services, Housing First can help people exit homelessness and live stably in their communities.
In communities across the nation, however, some misguided policymakers are responding to this crisis by advancing dangerous rhetoric and harmful, dehumanizing measures that will make it even harder for people to exit homelessness. It is critical that advocates nationwide are unified in pushing back against stigmatizing and counterproductive efforts that seek to criminalize homelessness, impose punitive requirements, and even prevent the development of affordable housing.
As our communities struggle with soaring inflation, skyrocketing rents, increased evictions, and, in many cases, more homelessness, it is more important than ever that advocates work together to advance the bold policies and anti-racist reforms needed to ensure stable, affordable, and accessible homes for all people experiencing and at risk of homelessness.
Learn more about Housing First at: https://bit.ly/3ViLyU6