According to a January 2022 Point-in-Time (PIT) count, there are an estimated 33,136 homeless Veterans in the nation, including 13,564 unsheltered Veterans – those living in places not meant for human habitation, like cars, parks, sidewalks, abandoned buildings and, literally, on the street.
The words “homeless” and “Veteran” should not exist together. VA is committed to ending homelessness among Veterans because it is our nation’s duty to ensure all Veterans have a place to call home.
Significant progress is being made. There has been a drop in the number of homeless Veterans – an 11% decrease since 2020 and a 55% percent decrease since 2010.
VA has specialized programs to serve this at-risk population. One important program is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. HUD-VASH combines federal housing vouchers with VA supportive services to aid in-need Veterans and their families find and sustain permanent housing solutions.
Using these vouchers, along with other VA homelessness assistance resources, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (VAGLAHS) has been able to provide 1,086 permanent housing placements to homeless Veterans in 2022 so far.
One of the property owners participating in the HUD-VASH program is Amir Ohebsion. Ohebsion and his family operate a real estate enterprise with a focus on building and managing multi-family properties. His buildings serve tenants that often have difficulty finding housing, including formerly homeless Veterans.
“It’s clear that they are really committed to the cause and helping Veterans,” Ohebsion said of the HUD-VASH team at VAGLAHS. “They do great work. I think our system is overwhelmed with need, and everybody is trying to help, but it’s a daunting problem.”
As tenants, Veterans offer an opportunity to combine business and humanity. For Ohebsion, serving this in-need community has become a part of his business model.
“It’s gratifying to see someone go from homelessness to stability – it really is. We're not a nonprofit so if we can do that and make it part of a business that is self-sustaining economically and profitable, all the better. I’m really proud that we've been able to do that.”
For VGLAHS HUD-VASH Coordinator Evangelina Ligons, the objective of the program is simple.
“We want [Veterans] stably housed and meeting their own goals,” Ligons said.
If it puts them on the fast track to establishing a career, starting a family, and owning a home, or whatever thriving means to them, all the better. But it all starts with that first step of finding safe and comfortable housing.
Along the way, Veterans may encounter difficulties in their transition from life on the street. VA works from the evidence-based, “Housing First” approach: VA social workers assist Veterans with moving into permanent housing as quickly as practical, even if there may be unresolved substance use or mental health issues. Once the Veteran is stably housed, they’re able to take advantage of supportive services, sustain their housing, and begin the process of rebuilding their lives.
Case management can be an important part of the transition as those that have been chronically homeless may have difficulties entering the system.
“I make sure I tell my team, ‘Make sure you offer help often and regularly,” said Ligons.
Once the housed Veteran feels the stability, they often have a platform to make other positive changes.
“Without stable housing, Veterans feel they can’t reach out to family and friends until they're a more settled and can say that things are different now,” said Ligons. “Stable housing is where the success stories begin.”
The Most Cost-Effective Way of Treating Homelessness
While VA programs are having success in addressing Veteran homelessness, homelessness is growing as a civilian problem, particularly in metro areas. Real estate values increased 17 percent in 2021 alone, according to the National Association of Realtors, and a shortage of affordable housing has raised occupancy rates in the rental market causing rents to rise four times faster than incomes.
It’s no coincidence that homelessness in Los Angeles increased a dramatic 32 percent between 2018 and 2020. Evidence suggests there are greater social costs in not doing more: Recent analyses by Rand Corp., a research organization, of LA County supportive housing initiatives suggest that it’s more cost-effective to house the homeless, offer adequate mental health and addiction treatment, and provide case workers rather than paying for increased interactions with law enforcement and emergency rooms.
Program Advantages for Property Owners
Offering stable housing for the formerly homeless is one thing, but what’s in it for property owners? Beyond the gratification of supporting Veterans, Ohebsion also explains:
“We have a lot of Veterans that live in our buildings that were formerly homeless and they have received good support… it's a great deal for property owners because the financial package that comes through a HUD-VASH voucher is typically better than a non-HUD-VASH Section 8 voucher. Also, they pay more rent – which is obviously important to property owners. And there’s often a bonus payment made just for agreeing to take the tenant – of $3,000. They also have a repairs program where HUD will come in and help out if there are maintenance issues that the tenant can’t pay for.”
Other benefits for property owners include:
- Voucher holders tend to remain longer in rentals versus non-voucher tenants by 100%.
- Program officers conduct inspections to ensure the tenant is taking care of the property.
- The rent is always paid on time every month.
- Inspectors do not tolerate criminal activity.
- Inspections ensure that only the approved, named residents are living in the rental.
- Problem prevention and crisis intervention through home and telehealth visits.
- Assistance with security deposits, rental assistances, and damage mitigation.
- Access to HUD-VASH staff including Social Workers, Peer Supports Specialist, Nurses, Occupational Therapists, and Housing Specialists with monthly landlord check-ins.
If a tenant does have a problem, their case mangers can arrange for intervention from the Mental Health Intensive Case Management Program (MHICM). Services they provide include medication management, budgeting, problem solving, crisis prevention/intervention, on-call case managers, occupational therapy and individual/family counseling.
“When Veterans don’t trust or are otherwise reluctant to speak or work with social workers or psychiatrists, they will often speak to peer support,” said Ligons. “Peer support specialists are available on all the HUD-VASH interdisciplinary teams and are very successful in engaging Veterans.”
And Ohebsion says there’s much more to the program than economics:
“We’ve had Veterans with PTSD or other mental issues tell me me how happy they are to be in a safe, quiet building where they can feel at peace. When Vets are off the streets and just living quiet lives, we’re really happy to see that happen. We’re glad to have been a part of it.”
If you are interested in learning more about renting to Veterans through the HUD-VASH program, please email: vhawlaHouseAVeteran@va.gov