VA Homeless Programs
December 13, 2022
Michael Boyd, LCSW
Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF)
Q: How long have you worked for VA, and what brought you to your current role?
A: August marks my thirteenth year with VA. In that time, I’ve ridden the mental health and homeless services pendulum, starting with substance use counseling with the opioid treatment program in Portland, Oregon. I was then hired as the HUD-VASH supervisor at the VA Portland Health Care System. After that, I swung back to mental health and moved my family to West Michigan, where I was a psychotherapist working with combat Veterans in Grand Rapids.
I’m currently an SSVF regional coordinator with the SSVF program office, which I’ve been a part of for six years this month.
Q: What is SSVF, and what role does this program play in ending Veteran homelessness?
A: SSVF provides funding to nonprofit community agencies across the country, which are tasked with rapidly rehousing homeless Veterans.
However, SSVF is so much more than just providing dollars to agency grantees. Throughout my time with SSVF, I’ve been a part of what I think are some pretty cool cutting-edge initiatives, like rapid resolution, legal enhancements, health care navigation, and, more recently, shallow subsidy services.
Because SSVF requires our grantees to follow Housing First, we offer our providers an array of critical services that help Veterans find housing quickly, stabilize once that housing has been found, and hopefully provide interventions for lasting success.
Q: What are your days like as a regional coordinator?
A: Every day is different, which is a big part of my job satisfaction with SSVF.
I remember my first day of graduate school for social work. I was part of this orientation where we were listening to two professors debate the merits of micro vs macro social work. With SSVF, you need to be a systems thinker, helping community stakeholders work closely and effectively together. But in order to make systems work, you need to help professionals trust one another. Every change, big or small starts with relationships. I work with grantees and communities to create quality, effective homeless response systems called coordinated entry. That has many moving pieces, and those pieces are often people.
Regional Coordinators balance the macro and micro to help communities achieve faster more successful approaches to housing homeless Veterans.
A lot of my work is interpersonal, but sometimes what I’m doing is professional relationship repair. For example, maybe SSVF and VA are working closely together and need to ensure that they trust one another, but it’s been a while since one has talked to the other, so I step in to facilitate a phone call. Or I’ll be working through a budget with a grantee, ensuring they're good stewards of our dollars. Or I'll provide guidance or consultation to SSVF providers, medical centers, or other community partners to ensure everyone fully understands our mission and how to be the most effective housing partners they can be.
But really, it is different every day. I like to wear multiple hats, all with this idea that we're tethered to this mission that ensures that we're supporting homeless Veterans. We're guided by whatever will offer the most effective services for our Veterans at the local level.
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of, or have made the biggest impact?
A: The first that comes to mind that I'm particularly proud of is helping create the suicide prevention enhancements that SSVF now provides.
That includes a requirement that started about three years ago. All SSVF providers including every person from the top of leadership to frontline staff, must be trained with the VA S.A.V.E. Training, ideally done in person. Completing this training either in person with a suicide prevention coordinator or online is now an annual requirement.
I think that's really helped increase peoples’ comfort in talking about the important topic of suicide prevention. Making the decision to have that requirement will hopefully have a lasting impact across the country.
I am also proud of being part of a team that's nimble. We can change as necessary and take the “all hands on deck” approach when needed. For example, we were able to quickly get medically compromised Veterans into hotels during the peak of the pandemic, then rapidly place those same Veterans into safe, permanent housing. It’s great to know that whatever our creative new enhancements might be, we will get to test them out, make necessary changes, then watch them work.
I really do feel like I'm part of a team that's making lasting differences.
Q: What do you think people get wrong about Veteran homelessness?
A: We've all heard common myths about homelessness—that it's a choice, or that nothing can really be done about it. I think the biggest myth for me, especially since working with SSVF, is that the positive effects of the services don’t last.
I'm always reminding others that rapid rehousing, for example, works for most. When Veterans receive housing first followed by supportive services, like legal assistance, employment, and mental health services, the majority not only stay housed, but they move forward with their life goals.
It's easy for us to remember particularly difficult cases where that didn't happen, and Veterans did return back to homelessness. But we all should remind one another, what we do matters, and it is lasting for the majority of the Veterans we serve. I think the myth is that homeless Veterans will return to homelessness once those services stop, and that couldn't be further from the truth.
Q: What is your “why” for this work?
A: It's the impact. I've never been part of such an impactful cause, knowing we are literally saving lives by quickly helping our most vulnerable Veterans find safe, affordable housing. This is especially true in a time when that feels like affordable housing options are shrinking across the country. It’s incredibly gratifying.
Despite the lack of housing stock and increasing rents, we are still housing homeless Veterans. It’s great being able to wake up each day and know that I get to be a part of such an important cause.