On November 11 of every year our nation takes a pause to honor our military veterans. As a way of saying “thank you,” many communities hold ceremonies of recognition, or offer veterans a range of free food and drinks from various establishments. They also receive retail discounts and reduced fees for travel and events during this time.
However, Veterans Day is not always a good one for all of our heroes, especially those experiencing homelessness. How do we honor them?
What a Decrease in Veteran Homelessness Means
One of the most fundamental ways to ensure that veterans are honored is to prevent and end their homelessness. Preliminary results for veterans experiencing homelessness from the 2022 Point-in-Time Count (PIT) recently released by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) indicate progress. The report shows an 11% decrease in veteran homelessness since 2020: the number of veterans without permanent housing was 33,136, down from 37,252 in 2020. This decrease represents a 55.3% drop in veteran homelessness since 2010 and an 11% drop since 2020, which is the biggest reduction in five years.
It is important to note that more information is needed to understand the full scope of this decrease. For instance, the impact among African Americans who make up a third of veterans experiencing homelessness is unclear. Were there specific geographic locations that drove the reduction? Was there notable progress among veterans in different age, race, or gender groups? Were these reductions equitable? While the field waits for more data to be released, the double-digit decrease is still encouraging news in light of the devastating impacts of the COVID pandemic and the economic downturn, coupled with the existing affordable housing crisis.
What Drives Success?
The key to keeping this trend going is providing permanent housing to veterans, and continuing support for VA programs that are grounded in Housing First, a proven success. Two of these programs include the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, which helps to rapidly re-house Veteran families who have lost their housing, and the HUD-VA Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH), which is designed to end chronic homelessness through placement in permanent housing through HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program. We must remain vigilant and keep letting our representatives know just how important these programs are to ending homelessness.
We also know that we must center equity in our solutions to ending veteran homelessness. Racial disparities exist in every system of the U.S., and homelessness is no exception. Veterans of color are disproportionately represented in homelessness in comparison to their peers, and experience the same challenges as non-veterans of color in terms of discrimination, overcriminalization, etc. We must always analyze our systems, services and supports to make sure that our policies and practices are not exacerbating inequities.
Veterans Day is one day out of the year, but to truly honor them requires a continuous commitment to making sure that no veteran remains unhoused. Let’s keep doing what works. Ensuring safe and affordable housing with supports (if needed) for veterans is a great way of saying thank you!