Supportive Services for Veteran Families: A Powerful Tool to Keep Veterans and Their Families Home

In launching the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness on June 4, 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama identified a program making a big difference in the lives of those who have served this country: the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). Started just three years ago, SSVF has emerged as critical in providing Veterans and their families with supportive services and connecting them with permanent housing.

VA recently published its SSVF FY 2013 Annual Report, documenting the program’s impact on ending and preventing homelessness for Veteran families experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. Nearly 85 percent of those served by the SSVF program had successful permanent housing outcomes. The number of Veterans and persons served by SSVF doubled between the first and second year as the program grew from 32,676 to 65,303 participants, totaling nearly 100,000 Veterans and their family members (97,979 people in total) served altogether.

Based on previous analysis, we already knew that SSVF is not only effective, but it is cost-effective as well. This year’s report shows that the program has become even more cost-effective: It now costs only a little more than $2,400 on average to serve each Veteran household through the program, a 12 percent decrease since its first year of operations.

So what makes SSVF such an effective program in ending and preventing homelessness for Veteran households? There are several key ingredients.

Housing Stability and Housing First

First and foremost, the key mission of the program is to assist Veteran families reach housing stability. Using a Housing First approach, case managers help participants immediately access and sustain permanent rental housing without requirements such as income, sobriety, or participation in treatment services. Case managers also connect Veterans to services that are necessary to help the Veteran’s family maintain their housing. All services are voluntary and are not a condition for retaining housing.

SSVF providers also support participants in finding training programs and employment, and by helping participants access benefits. To ensure that households do not again experience homelessness, SSVF providers also connect or provide them with legal assistance, credit counseling, health care, and other supports. The data speak for itself about the success of the program at keeping Veterans and their families in stable housing:  approximately 88 percent of single Veterans and 93 percent of Veterans in families did not return to VA homeless programs one year after their exit from SSVF.  

Serving Diverse Populations of Veterans with Unique Needs

SSVF is so effective at reducing homelessness because it is flexible in addressing the variety of needs of the Veterans and their families. Here are a couple of findings about the wide range of diverse populations of Veterans and their families that were served in FY 2013:

SSVF serves younger Veterans and Veterans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • 18 percent of the Veterans assisted by SSVF were between the ages of 18 – 34 and 47 percent were between the ages of 35 – 54.
  • More than 6,500 Veterans who participated in SSVF – 17 percent – served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Almost 60 percent of these Veterans experienced homelessness – the highest proportion of Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan in any national VA homeless program.

SSVF serves Veterans with disabling conditions, serious health, and behavioral health issues.

  • More than half (55 percent or 21,721) of the 39,649 Veterans participating had a disabling condition.
  • Many Veterans served by SSVF who were also treated in the VA Health Care System report being treated for serious health and mental health conditions. Cardiovascular disease (51 percent), Substance Use Disorder (44 percent), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (23 percent), and Major Depressive Disorder (20 percent) were common medical and mental health issues faced by Veterans exiting from SSVF.

SSVF serves female Veterans and children of Veterans.

  • Fifteen percent (5,865 of 39,649) of Veterans served were female – the highest proportion of women Veterans served by any VA homeless program.
  • One-quarter (15,948 of 65,303) of all those served were dependent children. SSVF provided support to help keep Veteran families together.

Coordination with Local Continuums of Care

To be successful in ending homelessness for Veteran families, SSVF programs coordinate their operations with a spectrum of community stakeholders and the local Continuums of Care (CoC). In the last Notice of Funding Availability, the SSVF program required applicants for new funding to include a letter of support from the local CoC. In every jurisdiction with an SSVF program, SSVF grantees are participating in CoC efforts to create coordinated access to the local crisis response system. Coordination is critical to identify Veterans experiencing homelessness in the community and to ensure that they move into housing as quickly as possible.  It ensures that Veterans are assessed with resources tailored to their unique needs and strengths.

By focusing on housing stability as the key mission of the program through a Housing First approach, targeting resources to high need groups, and coordinating operations with Continuums of Care, the SSVF program is changing the practice on ending Veteran homelessness and advancing progress toward the 2015 goal.

In the words of one SSVF participant, “SSVF not only gives assistance, but it gives hope. Their caring devotion and a true concern for the wellbeing of the people they help gave us hope.”

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