BEYOND THE NUMBERS
The number of homeless veterans has dropped by 47 percent since 2010, recent Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data show. While several factors contributed to this striking progress, one key one is the tens of thousands of new Housing Choice Vouchers for homeless veterans that policymakers have funded since 2008 through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program.
HUD-VASH pairs housing vouchers with supportive services — including mental health and other appropriate health care — administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. As the graph shows, HUD-VASH has grown in tandem with the rapid decline in veteran homelessness. The program’s success adds to the strong evidence showing that supportive housing is extremely effective at helping people with mental illness and other significant disabilities live in stable housing and receive appropriate health care.
In addition to expanding HUD-VASH, policymakers have boosted VA funding for short-term homelessness-related assistance, and communities have targeted other housing resources on homeless veterans to help more of them get stable housing.
The 2017 HUD funding bill that the Senate approved earlier this year would spend $50 million to fund 8,000 more VASH vouchers in 2017. These resources, plus some 15,000 new VASH vouchers that policymakers funded in 2015 and 2016 but that hadn’t been allocated to needy veterans when the latest HUD data were collected, would likely continue cutting veteran homelessness over the next two years.
HUD-VASH shows that targeted federal resources can drive down homelessness. Policymakers could do the same for other groups, such as families with children, by making a similar commitment of Housing Choice Vouchers and other resources. The Senate has proposed $20 million for 2,500 new vouchers in 2017 for families and youth who lack stable housing and are involved in the foster care system, and the President’s 2017 budget included 10,000 new vouchers for homeless families with children. Congress should include both proposals in the final HUD funding bill for 2017.