Curbing rates of veteran homelessness begins with implementing permanent supportive housing models that prioritize access to health care and mental health services.
Veterans in the US are at a disproportionately high risk of experiencing homelessness: while they represent only 7 percent of the general public, this group accounts for 23 percent of the total homeless population in the United States. In Los Angeles County alone, there are approximately 3,886 homeless veterans according to the 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count.
Today, new solutions for affordable housing paired with health care and mental health services are being deployed across the country to help mitigate this issue. Benjamin Henwood, associate professor at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, helped launch the Philadelphia housing agency Pathways to Housing and has a rich background in serving homeless individuals struggling with mental illness, physical disease and addiction.
While permanent supportive housing programs can take a number of forms based on a community’s specific needs, permanent supportive housing is defined by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) as “a model that combines low-barrier affordable housing, health care and supportive services to help individuals and families lead more stable lives.”
Traditionally, the approach to reducing veteran homelessness has begun with transitional models in which individuals experiencing homelessness are required to complete short-term residential rehabilitation and treatment programs before they can move into permanent housing.
However, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has led a movement in recent years toward a reimagined “housing first” model of permanent supportive housing, which prioritizes placing individuals in PSH without requiring that they pursue mental health treatment, financial advising or addiction care. “The housing first model has become more popular in recent years due to a large body of evidence that suggests it may be more effective in permanently reducing rates of homelessness,” Henwood said. (3rd January 2019)