VA Maryland Health Care System
Partnership to End Homelessness
Although the VA Maryland Health Care System has long been addressing veterans' homelessness by conducting outreach to locate and identify veterans living on the streets, regularly visiting local city shelters, and networking with city landlords, it gained a powerful new ally. Earlier this year, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake embraced First Lady Michelle Obama's Mayors Veterans Homeless Challenge to End Homelessness by the end of 2015. Spurred by the challenge, the Mayor and her team began working to collaborate with the VA Maryland Health Care System to make homelessness among Baltimore veterans "rare and brief."
Dr. Adam Robinson Jr., acting director of the VA Maryland Health Care System accepted the challenge, saying, "We are excited about this collaboration with Baltimore City because it will allow veterans entering any city-based program to be identified quickly and then be connected with the necessary support services we provide."
"On any given night, nearly 3,000 people experience homelessness in Baltimore, and approximately 15 percent are veterans," the Mayor said during a press conference announcing the collaboration. "The men and women who have served to protect our freedom and country should be honored for their bravery and sacrifice and not left uncared for to die on our streets. This is unacceptable to me and unacceptable for Baltimore. We know that homelessness can be solved!"
The VA Maryland Health Care System's Community Integration Services uses a three-pronged approach to addressing veteran homelessness: outreach, transitional housing, and permanent and supportive housing.
The transitional housing team provides more than 400 contract and grant per-diem housing options at 10 community partner facilities throughout the state. It also provides outreach, case management, employment counseling, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and medical and dental services.
Permanent and supportive housing is offered through a joint effort between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the VA Supportive Housing Program, known as HUD-VASH, that is designed to move veterans and their families out of homelessness and into permanent housing. HUD provides housing assistance through its Housing Choice Voucher Program that allows homeless veterans to rent privately owned housing. The VA then offers the homeless veterans access to clinical and supportive services through comprehensive case management. There are currently 360 HUD-VASH vouchers issued to homeless veterans throughout Baltimore City.
The collaboration with the VA Maryland Health Care System and the City will enable increased networking with city-based landlords who can help identify housing in a variety of neighborhoods in Baltimore. Available housing is one of the key elements to resolving homelessness among Baltimore veterans since both Baltimore City and the VA Health Care System use the Housing First Model as a critical tool in tackling the issue of homelessness. "Through the Housing First Model, the VA uses stable housing for veterans as a platform to address a litany of issues, including mental health, substance abuse and physical health problems. Our case managers also address issues of unemployment, poor credit and rental history, legal roadblocks, and lack of family support," said Christopher Buser, the chief of Social Work Service at the VA Maryland Health Care System.
This local and federal partnership is already bridging the technology gap, eliminating the information silos between agencies, and streamlining the process of identifying veterans when they enter Baltimore City shelters or homeless programs. Baltimore City and the VA Maryland Health Care System are also now using the HUD Homeless Management Information System, enabling community partners to track veterans and their needs and streamline the process for finding adequate housing.
"Already we have seen some positive outcomes! The collaboration with Baltimore City has resulted in an expedited inspection process for potential HUD-VASH units and rental properties for homeless veterans, making the process more efficient and allowing veterans to move into rental units much sooner," said Robinson.
"To truly make this a reality, we need the entire community to work with us. We need the Housing Authority, housing developers and landlords to create more permanent housing opportunities for our veterans," the Mayor said. "The challenge will not stop at the end of this year."