Five years ago, an earthquake shook our region--and caused $34 million in damage to the Washington National Cathedral. We get an update on the repairs.
An estimated 60,000 veterans are homeless today, but the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has made a dramatic pledge to drop that number to zero by 2015. To achieve that goal, the VA is working with local nonprofit groups that already have ties to landlords and jobs in the community. We examine new “rapid re-housing” and prevention programs for veterans in our area, and explore why young female veterans are increasingly at risk for homelessness — and what’s being done about it.
- Danielle Corazza Army veteran; advisory board member, Final Salute; board member Women Joining Forces Advisory Council for the Business and Professional Women's Foundation; President, Applegate Solutions
- Geoff Millard Director of Special Projects, Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place
- John Kuhn Acting National Director, Supportive Services for Homeless Veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. An estimated 60,000 veterans are homeless in the United States, but the secretary of the veterans' administration has made a bold pledge to bring that number down to zero by the year 2015. With the support of President Obama and bipartisan backing in Congress, the VA has lots of money to spend on this mission.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt also has a new approach to helping vets. Rather than doing the work by itself, the VA is handing out million-dollar grants to local nonprofits, figuring they already have ties to landlords and employers in the community who can help vets settle in. Some homeless veterans are older, having served in Vietnam. Others are younger, back from service in Iraq or Afghanistan. And a growing number are women with children.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHalfway through the project to find them all homes, their numbers are down, but there are still big challenges. And joining us in studio to discuss those challenges is Danielle Corazza. She's an Army veteran and an advisory board member with Final Salute. Danielle Corazza, thank you for joining us.
MS. DANIELLE CORAZZAThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Geoff Millard. He is director of special projects with the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place. Geoff, thank you for joining us.
MR. GEOFF MILLARDThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from New Jersey is John Kuhn, acting national director of Supportive Services for veteran families in the Department of Veterans Affairs. John, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOHN KUHNGood afternoon. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAll of those interested in joining the conversation can do so by calling 800-433-8850. Are you a veteran who struggled to keep your housing or lost your housing? What was your experience? 800-433-8850. John, I'll start with you. Three years ago, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki pledged that he would end homelessness among veterans by 2015. How many homeless veterans were there when he made that pledge, and what are the numbers today?
KUHNWell, the numbers have dropped substantially in the last several years. We've gone from a substantial number. Back in '09, we had over 75,000 veterans on the streets to 62,000 now. And when the secretary made that pledge, it was really quite dramatic. I was in the room at that time and really -- to really take this to the logical conclusion, to take it to zero is not something that anyone had ever really proposed in a serious way before.
KUHNAnd quite honestly, I think it's really energized large numbers of people in this mission to be able to be successful, to be able to continue to see these drops that we've been experiencing year after year. The -- and the continuation of that improvement, I think, is in large part because of the wonderful community partners to which you have on today who have been able to leverage the relationships they have in the community to be able to really bring the services that our homeless veterans need to end this terrible problem.
NNAMDIJohn, could you quickly describe the demographics of homeless veterans? How many are older Vietnam vets? How many are veterans of more recent conflicts like the Gulf War or wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
KUHNYes. It's actually a very diverse population. I think sometimes people hear the word homeless and they think of this sort of homogenous blob of people, and they -- it's easy to fall into the trap of not recognizing that, of course, it represents tremendous variation, tremendous diversity, each person with individual needs that have to be attended to, and we need to be able to deliver the services to them. So, for instance, half of our homeless population is over the age of 50. That represents Vietnam and some of the post-Vietnam generation.
KUHNAnd these veterans may have very different needs, more likely, for instance, to be disabled than the general population than the population returning from Iraq or Afghanistan now. So we have to be able to develop services that can serve this broad range of ages with very different needs. We also now are seeing larger numbers of women coming into our services who need -- if you look at the force structure, for instance, in the military, 15 percent are women, so we can expect more and more of our veterans to be women.
KUHNThey are very often the primary caretakers for children, so we need to develop and have developed programs that can address needs not just of those individual veterans but of their family because we can't ask anymore than a veteran will leave any other -- of his mates behind in the battlefield. We're not going to expect a parent or a mother to leave their children behind as we try to lift them out of homelessness, so we need programs that will address all their needs.
NNAMDIGeoff Millard, tell us your story. You are a nine-year Army veteran yourself. You served in Iraq. How did you come to be working with homeless veterans?
MILLARDWell, when I got back from Iraq, I started working with Iraq Veterans Against the War, and that led me into working on foreign policy and veterans' issues. And I went back to actually teach a class on Iraq at the University of Buffalo.
MILLARDAnd when I decided to come back to the District after that, I was looking for a job where I could help more veterans and really do a lot more in the veteran community and saw a listing at Friendship Place for the Homeless Veterans Initiative. They were looking for a director. It was a policy initiative. It was set to run two years. We actually expanded it and did three years working on policies to end homelessness for veterans.
NNAMDITalk about the homeless veterans in this region and the Washington area. What are their numbers, and what are the trends? How does the District, for instance, compare to the suburbs?
MILLARDSo what's interesting -- we saw, as John talked about, a big decrease a couple years ago, and I think that a lot of that has to do with the fact that HUD-VASH, the housing -- it was -- it's a Section 8 voucher for veterans, essentially.
MILLARDIt's -- and it -- when we saw that hit the streets and really get a lot of veterans experiencing homelessness housed through that program, we saw a sharp decrease in the number of veterans who were experiencing homelessness. And after that, we've seen it kind of plateau off, and I think a big part of that is going to be addressed through the SSVF program and allowing...
NNAMDIWhich we'll discuss later, yes?
MILLARDRight. And allowing veterans who have a prevention in that, so we're actually preventing veterans from becoming homeless and actually being able to house those who become homeless before they get into that category of chronically homeless, someone who might need that HUD-VASH voucher, which I want to state that the most expensive thing that we can do as a system when a veteran experiences homelessness is leave them on the street. That's the most expensive thing for the system.
MILLARDAnd the second most expensive thing that we can do is put them into an apartment and pay all of it and have permanent supportive housing. But that's still -- even if we put someone in their own apartment, pay for everything, get them a case manager, it's still less expensive than to just leave them on the street.
MILLARDAnd one of the most cost-effective things that we can do to have that lasting impact to make sure that we're working towards ending homelessness is within that SSVF program, doing that rapid re-housing, doing that prevention because the quicker that we can help someone stabilize and avoid that experience of homelessness, the cheaper it is on the system, but also the more effective it is on the individual and the less trauma that they're going to experience in their life because of homelessness.
NNAMDISSVF means Support Services for Veteran Families. But first, Danielle, you are a veteran yourself, and you've done a lot of advocacy for women vets. How did you get into this work?
CORAZZAIt was an odd story. I was a stay-at-home mom, and a friend of mine said, I have a great nonprofit looking for a woman veteran subject-matter expert. And I said, well, I'm a woman veteran. I think that might make me a subject-matter expert, so I began working for a great foundation, Business and Professional Women's Foundation, as the director of veterans' outreach, and I -- we were working on developing a programs for women vets.
CORAZZAWe did some of the first research into the women vet population back in 2007 and actually discovered that the transition for a woman out of the military is -- takes about seven years, which was at the time shocking. It had really never been discussed before.
CORAZZAAnd then over the years, we began to realize that the slope for women -- military women versus their civilian counterparts into homelessness and/or even something as grave as suicide was so much more slippery, and so really got drawn into the subject that -- trying to figure out how to stop that. Why is that different? Why do these issues exist in our small cohort of the military population?
NNAMDIAnd what have you found out so far? Women make up a higher percent of the homeless veteran population than they used to. Why are more women vets struggling with housing, and what are the special challenges that they face?
CORAZZAIt depends on who you ask. My personal opinion is that women veterans become disenfranchised from their community. They move around a lot. They're usually attached to a male military member. That divorce rate is very high, so, as John mentioned, they tend to be primary caregivers of small children. And women veterans don't ask for help.
CORAZZAThey usually wait until they're on their last leg, until they've really exhausted all of their resources between friends and family, any support networks that they have. And so, you know, as Geoff was mentioning, finding intervention for them before they hit the streets, the timeframe is shortened. We've actually seen a double -- more than 140 percent increase in women veteran homelessness since it began being counted or, excuse me, from the count in 2006 to 2010.
NNAMDIJohn Kuhn, same question to you.
KUHNWell, I think one of the things which is so important that Danielle pointed out is that we're beginning to see larger numbers of women come into the system and in part because we have developed services that are more appropriate to their needs. So the program that Danielle runs, for instance, didn't even exist some years ago. There were no specific services developed to meet those needs.
KUHNSo as we develop programs that are more appropriate, we're going to see women come into our services that -- and that will, of course, allow us to be more effective and hopefully end homelessness among women, although we do see about 8 percent of the homeless veteran population currently are women. If that begins to mirror the discharges we see at the military, that number as a proportion of the homeless number may go up.
NNAMDIJohn Kuhn is acting national director for supportive services for veterans of -- for veteran families with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He joins us by phone from New York. Joining us in studio is Danielle Corazza. She is an Army veteran and an advisory board member with Final Salute. And Geoff Millard is director of special projects with the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. What obligation do you think the nation has to prevent homelessness among veterans? You can also send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Geoff Millard, you say women don't necessarily like going to the VA for services.
MILLARDYeah. The VA traditionally has had an issue with women veterans wanting to go in. I talk to a lot of women veterans through our program, and our program Veterans First, which is a grantee of SSVF, one of the targets we want to help are women veterans. And one of the things that we hear repeatedly is that they feel like they have to walk through a "gauntlet" of men. And that feeling really can build an animosity towards the VA, and I think that the VA, though, is doing a lot to kind of correct that.
MILLARDSo if you look at the Washington, D.C. Medical Center, for example, they're building right now a women's pavilion. And so there won't just be a women's clinic, which is kind of buried deep within the medical center, but instead, there'll be a full pavilion with a number of different resources available for the women that are accessing those resource -- accessing those services. And that's going to be part of the key of how we're going to to end homelessness for veterans. If we want to have that lasting impact, we really want to end homelessness for veterans, we have to treat people like they're people.
MILLARDWe have to treat people like they're individuals and not just a homeless veteran in this kind of myopic tone of whatever that might mean but understand that these are individuals, these are people, these are family members, and they all have their individual needs. And once we start looking at people as people and as individuals, we can start to understand what is that particular individual's needs and how do we create the services that wrap around that individual to meet their needs.
NNAMDIDanielle, talk us, if you will, through the experience of a young woman getting out of the military after four years of service in Iraq or Afghanistan. What are some of the obstacles to a smooth transition into a job and into a new home?
CORAZZAWell, I think a lot it is unexpected. Somebody in that situation would get out, and even if they had lined -- previously lined up a job, they may not be aware of the cost of living. I think when you're in a service, your housing is covered. Your food is covered. You get paid extra money if you have dependents, and your medical care is provided. When you get out of the military, you know, even after four or five years, those services are no longer available.
CORAZZASo the salary that you thought you're going to get from your civilian employer may not go quite as far. There are also some basic issues. You know, in the D.C.-Northern Virginia area, it's quite common for a landlord to ask for the first and last month's rent upfront. That can be, even for a small studio apartment, as much as $2,500, you know, up to $5,000. If you don't have a large cash base to fall back on, that's an insurmountable obstacle.
CORAZZAAnother large problem that I would agree with Geoff that the VA is driving very hard to overcome is that women do not self-identify as veterans. Sixty-two percent of our population feel that they are not veterans. Most would say it's because they didn't serve in combat, or, oh, you know, the VA is desperately seeking the direct answer to that. We're working very hard in outreach to bring them into this system.
CORAZZABut unless they're accessing the services that are available to them and the programs that are there, the programs can't help. So I think that is a common thread amongst the service providers and the nonprofits and the government that we need people to come to us and ask for help before it gets to be critical.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about ending homelessness among veterans, inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you know veterans who've had a bumpy transition to permanent housing after leaving the military? How did they deal with it? 800-433-8850 or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the challenges of ending homelessness among veterans with: John Kuhn, acting national director of Supportive Services for Veteran Families with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Geoff Millard is director of Special Projects with Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place, and Danielle Corazza is an army veteran and an advisory board member with Final Salute. Let's go directly to the telephones and talk with Alex in Rockville, Md. Alex, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALEXHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.
ALEXMy question for your guests is, as it pertains to veterans returning from the war, there's now a smaller percent of the population who are veterans. I can sympathize with their situation and traumatic experiences they've received. What type of integration strategy are we using to get out soldiers, maybe sailors, back on their feet? And is it better to kind of keep them together or kind of "dilute" them into society? I'll take the response off the air.
NNAMDIJohn Kuhn, I'll ask you to respond to that because I don't know if that would include what Geoff has been referring to as SSVF and that is Support Services for Veteran Families that you had.
KUHNSure. It certainly can. I think it's important to understand about one of the things about a military culture is that veterans really internalize the ethos of being strong and being able to stand on their own.
KUHNSo even though the military does do a thing called -- they offer assistance as people are leaving the military in an attempt to help them make that change, I think there's a -- sometimes a difficulty in hearing the message all the time as people are leaving the military, that they're looking to reintegrate with their family and with their community, and they're not thinking about all the services that might be available to them necessarily. They want to get their lives back in the community.
KUHNSo programs like this are so important and programs, I mean, not SSVF, I mean, this radio program to make sure information gets out to the community because it's often important, not just that veterans hear about these services, but the people who know them and love them and can direct -- help direct them or let them know about resources that are available. Veterans often hear things, you know, word of mouth or on the radio or like anyone else.
KUHNSo using this kind of medium is so important. I think secondly that the SSVF program does play an important role here for reintegration, I think, for some of the very reasons that Danielle and Geoff described, that it's more than just the veteran that we want to be able to serve. We want to serve the entire family. So, for instance, SSVF, a quarter of all the people served through this program are children, the dependent children of veterans.
KUHNAnd attending -- just like all of us, our families are important to me, to the people on this broadcast, the people who are listening. It's no different for veterans whether they're homeless or not. So we want to be able to help them stay with their family or have relationships with their family if that's -- certainly, if that's related to their homeless status as well. But I think certainly, Geoff and Danielle can talk much more about transition for the military having experienced it than I can.
NNAMDIThe process of integration after being in the military. First you, Geoff.
MILLARDI would say that the biggest thing, going back to the caller's question, is we have to treat service members coming out again like individuals. OK. And some people want to group in with other veterans and maybe live in collectives or that sort of group-type environment, but many will want to live in scattered sites and really try and work their way back into their community the same way they were before they left. Of course, they're very different people, but we have to keep in mind what that individual's needs are.
MILLARDSo we're seeing a lot of veterans coming back to school, but we're also seeing, for this generation of veteran, a much higher dropout rate than we, say, saw in the World War II veteran who's coming back using the G.I. Bill. And so we have to make sure that we're creating those wraparound services, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There isn't this one solution that's going to work for every veteran.
MILLARDWe have to make sure that veterans are continued to be treated like individuals. That's a huge philosophy for us at Friendship Place, and it's one of the reasons why I think that we excel at what we do is that we don't lump people together in one class of this is who you are. We try and get to know someone and get to know what their individual needs are.
MILLARDAnd if we're working on that with service members who are discharging and trying to reintegrate in the community, we have to get to know them and understand what their needs are and what they want out of life. And the DOD is starting to work on changing this, but I think they have a very long way to go to actually get to an effective discharge process that helps to truly reintegrate the service member into the community.
NNAMDIDanielle, anything you like to add to that? Alex, thanks for your call.
CORAZZAI would just add that the biggest thing is to ensure that they're plugged in, that they have information about the services that are available, that their family members have information about the services that are available. There are VA hotlines you can call as a caregiver, as a family member, as the veteran. Whether you have questions pertaining to homelessness or mental health, you know, there's lots of outreach being done.
CORAZZAAnd I think that the veterans are going to go wherever they're comfortable. The problem happens when they disconnect completely and nobody knows to pull them back in or nobody knows where they're at. So for me, getting information out and helping the veterans remain plugged in is critical to solving the problem.
NNAMDIAnd in terms of helping veterans remain plugged in, John, the VA provides a lot of services directly to vets, but your program, Support Services for Veteran Families, gives grants to community-based groups to work with local homeless vets. Why did the VA decide to tap into existing community services rather than providing housing services itself?
KUHNWell, you know, we have tremendous talent in the community. You've got two people sitting with you right now who can attest to that where we have an opportunity from the VA to really bring on the experts. In this case, you known, Geoff and Danielle are experts on providing services within a community context. They know not just the housing that they're providing, maybe, but perhaps support services that can play a critical difference.
KUHNThey can bring in different kinds of income resources. They know employers. They know landlords. They know childcare agencies that might be able to provide critical needs, social support and the list goes on that it's not possible for the VA to have all those kinds of services nor should we try to create all of that when we can support community agencies who have that -- have those skills, have those relationships and help us be successful with veterans.
KUHNAnd I think that's one of the reasons why SSVF has been able to get off to such a fast start, the fact that we've only been in operation for a year and already in the first year we've -- we had hoped that our programs would serve 22,000 people. The first year, we served over 35,000. And I think that speaks to the motivation and the skills that are available to us through these community agencies.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones, here is Molly in Washington, D.C. Molly, your turn.
MOLLYThank you, Kojo. Thank you for having this show. I have a question for your panel, and I can take the information off the air. I am a social worker at the Washington Hospital Center. I work with pregnant teenagers. But I have a male co-worker who works with fathers, and he's starting to work with homeless vets. And he had mentioned to me the other day that he'd really want to take a sensitivity training. And I was wondering if your panel could talk about some resources that I might be able to pass on to him. Thanks. I'll take the information off the air.
MILLARDI actually run a few trainings similar to that through Friendship Place. And if you look me up on our website, friendshipplacedc.org, you can contact me and I'll make sure to connect that individual with the resources for training.
NNAMDIFriendshipplacedc.org. Any suggestions for our caller, Danielle?
CORAZZAWe don't have a formal sensitivity training.
NNAMDIGeoff, the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place received a grant of just under $1 million for a program that you call Veterans First. If a homeless veteran walks through your front door, what help do you offer him or her?
MILLARDWell, upon intake, we're going to look to help that individual rebuild their life with the help of the community. That's our philosophy and our mission at Friendship Place. And what that means in our Veterans First program is that we're going to, first, partner that veteran with a case manager who can start to assess what that individual's needs are. We also have a housing expert who has relationships with landlords to see, OK, where do you want to live? Can you afford to live in certain neighborhoods? Can we get you in to different programs? We also then have a benefits specialist.
MILLARDSo if somebody walks in and they are -- have spent their night in the shelter, we're going to make sure, well, do they have SNAP? Do they -- make sure that they have the benefits as far as food, the immediate things that they need right away, those survival issues. But then we're going to work with them -- are they entitled to SSI, SSDI? Are they entitled to veteran's disability benefits? Were they injured while they were on active duty and never filed for it? So we're going to help them with that.
MILLARDThen we also have an employment expert who is going to help them -- do they have employment needs? Do they need more training? Do they just need a connection? Do they need help with their resume? And so we're going to look at that individual as a whole person and see what areas they need him. We have specialists that help with those particular areas and work with their case manager to make sure that we attain those goals and we help that individual set their goals on their way to rebuilding their lives so that we do have that lasting impact on our community.
NNAMDIDanielle mentioned earlier how much it can cost for the first and the last month's rent. It can go as high as $5,000. How does the high cost of housing in this area affect veterans?
MILLARDIt's a huge impact. Affordable housing is one of the number one reasons why any individual becomes homeless, and so if you're going to experience homelessness, one of the big reasons for that is going to be affordable housing. This area is notorious for having issues with affordable housing.
MILLARDAnd so that's why having that housing expert who works with landlords -- sometimes we can have a landlord that might spread out that security deposit through their rent through the years so they don't have to pay it right away or working with them to, say, maybe take a little bit lower because they know they're working with a veteran who's trying to rebuild their life. And so these are issues that, when we have those specialists who develop those kinds of relationships -- and also, we can do some things being in the nonprofit sector that the VA simply can't do.
MILLARDWe can also leverage our private funding. Right now, we're looking for more private funding, but we're using private funding dollars to help to expand some of those resources and do some of the things that we wouldn't fit into that grant, you know, helping someone, say, with a dishonorable discharge. Well, we can't help them with VA money.
MILLARDBut we can help them with private funding. And so we want to get to the point we're never turning someone away. And so we're always looking, in fact, for more private funding to go along with that. And we can partner that up to make sure we're really helping that individual get to the point where they've rebuilt their life.
NNAMDIIf you have called already, stay on the line. We'll get to your call as quickly as possible. The number is 800-433-8850. We still have a few lines open. Are you a veteran who struggled to keep your housing or lost your housing? What was your experience? You can also send email to email@example.com or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDIDanielle, you're on the advisory board of a group called Final Salute that runs two transitional houses for homeless women vets and their children. The first house is in Fairfax, another is about to open in Alexandria. What is the mission of these homes and who lives in them?
CORAZZAOur primary mission is to provide homeless female veterans with safe and suitable housing. We do so by administering the H.O.M.E. program, which stands for housing, outreach, mentorship and education. We focus on assisting the veteran in creating a goal-oriented independence plan. And then as Geoff was saying, we do the same thing. We leverage community and resource partners to assist her in meeting her goals, thus preparing them, of course, for the attaining long-term stability and security.
CORAZZAThe women that live in the homes are -- they span the entire gamut of statistics. They're different ages, you know, different services. Some have children, some don't. Currently, the women that live in the homes all have jobs. They just experienced some type of crisis in their life that led them to be, you know, not able to stay on their own. So we're very excited to have the homes. It's one of the -- we -- as far as I know, we're the only two homes that take in women and their children. We have about 30 women on the waiting list.
NNAMDII think it's important, at this point, to talk about Jas Boothe and the woman who inspired and founded this.
CORAZZAShe is phenomenal. I wish she could be here today. She experienced homelessness herself due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina while she was in the military. She lost everything. And upon losing everything, she really realized that unless you are broken, unless you are mentally unstable or you have a drug or substance abuse problem or somebody has abused you physically, the existing shelters would not -- do not really have the -- couldn't meet your needs, excuse me.
CORAZZAAnd she decided to start a nonprofit to eradicate homelessness in the woman vet population. She likes to tell people, when they say, how far you going to go? -- she said, I can't wait till I can slam my doors closed because all estimated 13,000 women vets, homeless women vets are off the streets.
NNAMDIShe's gone pretty far herself. She now holds dual MAs in human resource management, and management and leadership from Webster. She's -- has two sons and is the wife of a former Marine combat veteran, one heck of a woman.
CORAZZAAnd she's still an active duty officer in the army.
NNAMDIOn to Aaron in Maryland. Aaron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AARONHello, sir. How are you?
AARONThank you for taking my call. Having been a homeless veteran, I lived in the bushier stateside for more than a year some 30 years ago. I'm in that generation of veterans. I'm just wondering why there has been so little attention paid to a cure for one of the biggest drivers of homelessness in general, and for veterans in particular, and that's alcoholism. And we all know the effects that -- I know, Kojo, you've had that as a topic on your program a number of times, and the dollar amounts and the lives destroyed are just incalculable.
AARONBut there's an actual cure for it through your own personal doctor, where, you know, the cure for alcohol is in the book. But the Sinclair method, you actually go to your own doctor. He writes you a prescription and literally you cure yourself, 80 percent double blind cure. It's not a partial cure. It's a cure cure. And animals, it's 100 percent, but humans don't follow instructions quite as well as white mice.
NNAMDIAnd you feel that there has not been enough emphasis on that. John Kuhn, I'm glad that Aaron raised that question because it gives me the opportunity to have you talk both about that and why the new buzzword among service providers for the homeless is rapid re-housing. How does that model work? How was it different from past theories about how to get people off the streets and out of shelters because past theories include getting people off of whatever they may have been addicted to before finding housing for them, but that's not the case anymore. Go ahead, please, John.
KUHNWell, we certainly do provide substance use and alcohol counseling in the VA and through a number of other community providers that we work with. But it's also our experience that people who have substance use disorders are going to be more successful if they have a place to live. You know, it's sort of a common sense, I guess. If you have a place to put your head down at night that's safe and you're not in fear, you're more likely to be able to follow another set of medical needs successfully or mental health needs successfully.
KUHNAnd, you know, just to give you an example, you know, all of us, you know, we woke up this morning. We probably had our coffee and our breakfast and we went to work. We were probably a lot more successful at work because we did those things. It'd been much harder to be successful at work if we were up all night, hadn't slept, hadn't eaten and then had to follow some complex tests.
KUHNSubstance use and alcohol treatment is very demanding. I do wish we could boast an 80 percent success rates. I'm not aware of any intervention that have those levels of success rates. It's very challenging. We're asking people very often who have substance use and alcohol problems to make radical changes in their lives. And think of -- for those of you who has tried to follow a diet or simply exercise more, and how challenging that is?
KUHNAnd you have lots of social support. You know it's very important to your health. And yet most people are unable to maintain those kinds of relatively simple changes with lots of social supports, changing greater issues like substance use disorders, like treatment for mental health when you have no or very few social ports. When you live in the street and you're homeless and you're in fear, those are very, very challenging things to do. So we are certainly looking at rapid re-housing as a way of supporting people, so it becomes more possible for them to make those changes.
NNAMDIFor a long time, homeless services did indeed focus on getting people clean, off drugs and onto medication, before finding them a place to live. The rapid re-housing model, I guess, flips that, right?
KUHNIt's consistent with housing first. The idea being -- is that people, as I had described, if we can get people safe and have first, they're going to be more successful at tackling these other very significant challenges, which are not easy to resolve and takes real focus and commitment -- and a focus and a commitment that's much easier to muster if you're not leaving on the street.
NNAMDIWell, if I may be allowed to interrupt, John. Talk a little bit about time. How does the timing of rapid re-housing compare with the process of finding subsidies or vouchers to get homeless people back into housing?
KUHNIt can vary quite a bit. I think as Jeff described, it's so important to have relationships with the landlords to be able to manage the cost of getting people into housing. Rapid -- we would like it to be literally immediate. But the reality is it take -- can often take some time. So it's important for agencies to be able to have places where they can hold people safely temporarily, whether that's transitional housing or shelter sometimes, until that permanent housing becomes available.
KUHNSo rapid is as quick as it can be done. And that's going to be different perhaps in Washington, D.C., than it will be in a rural area of Montana. It's going to depend on the housing stock that's available. It's going to depend on the relationships that the provider has with landlords. But listen, we do know these programs work, and we know it because in the last several years, we've gone through an economy that has been challenging. We see poverty rates go up. We know unemployment is going up.
KUHNAnd these are typically conditions that will lead to great amounts of homelessness. Yet despite these larger macroeconomic conditions, we've seen HUD-VASH, which is a permanent housing program for the VA, now, SSVF and other VA programs reduce homelessness significantly in the face of these larger economic problems.
NNAMDIWe got to take a short break. Aaron, thank you very much for your call. If you'd like to call, 800-433-8850. Do you think we should have requirements like sobriety or employment before we offer housing assistance to homeless veterans? 800-433-8850, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing the challenges of ending homelessness among veterans. We're talking with John Kuhn, acting national director of Supportive Services for Veteran Families at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Geoff Millard is director of Special Projects with the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place, and Danielle Corazza is an Army veteran and an advisory board member with Final Salute.
NNAMDIYour calls, 800-433-8850. When we took that break, Danielle and Geoff, we were talking about the fact that some people feel that sobriety or employment should come before we can offer housing assistance to homeless veterans. What's wrong with that?
CORAZZAWell, for women veterans especially, that formula is a little bit backwards. We've actually found that what drives women veterans to homelessness is some form of crisis, whether it'd be losing their job or relocating. And if they do not get rapidly re-housed or receive intervention in a reasonable timeframe, that leads to the descent into drug abuse or alcoholism, which then also leads into the possibility for physical abuse or worsening circumstances. So our mission is really to stop the homelessness before it occurs and problems worsen in the specific population.
MILLARDWell, I would also say that a lot of people live with drug abuse, alcohol abuse and also mental illness. And we should put that in there because that's a very common thing that people think, oh, well, everyone who experienced homelessness is mentally ill. Well, a lot of people maintained permanent housing just fine and still struggle with those issues and experience those issues as well.
MILLARDAnd so while it can be -- drug, alcohol, mental illness can be a contributing factor on why someone might become homeless, it should never be a barrier to that individual regaining permanent housing and helping them rebuild their life. Like, that should never be a barrier even if it is a contributor for why they might experience homelessness.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here now is Sam in Washington, D.C. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I had a question and then perhaps a suggestion for a more permanent solution. What is the total cost associated with an individual who's homeless?
NNAMDII suspect that depends on the particularity of the case that we're talking about because one of the things that all of our guests have been emphasizing here is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this issue, that each individual or individual family may have different needs. So here is Danielle Corazza.
CORAZZAI don't know exactly what it costs, but I will tell you that at Final Salute, it costs us about $25 a day to keep a woman veteran off the streets, which is about $5,000 a month for each of our homes. And I think that VA's grant per diem program authorizes up to $41 a day to keep said veteran off the street, not that that's an all-inclusive cost 'cause it's not. But those are some basic numbers to start with.
NNAMDISam, you said you had a suggestion?
SAMI did. You know, looking at the tremendous amounts of vacant home inventories, for example, in the Baltimore area and at a very low cost to buy and rehab these homes, why not look at a solution to where a developer, like myself, buy these units, rehab them, perhaps utilize the assistance of the individual homeless person and provide the homeownership for a long-term solution as opposed to dealing with the landlords, the high rents and the high housing cost?
NNAMDIJohn Kuhn, that sounds maybe a bit more complicated.
KUHNWe actually do have some programs like that. The VA has a program through its mortgage -- VA housing offers mortgages to veterans as well. And sometimes as homes become available because of foreclosure to the general public, and the VA does try to make those homes available actually for homeless veterans through a variety of different means, I think the challenge with homeownership for a veteran who has a very low income, which is typically the case for a homeless veteran, is it's very expensive to maintain a home.
KUHNAnd it's not just the purchase price but maintaining a home, paying the taxes and all the rest. So that's often not an option. I don't want to say it's never an option, but it will be a challenging option. I also wanted to go back to, you know, an earlier question about the -- that the caller had mentioned, about the cost of homelessness. And this was touched on earlier as well. There's actually some studies.
KUHNDennis Culhane -- for those of you who want to look up an article, it's -- his last name is spelled C-U-L-H-A-N-E -- he's a well-known researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, did a seminal study on the cost of homelessness and that it is actually more expensive to have somebody homeless because they typically get their care their health care in emergency rooms, which, of course, is the most expensive care. They are more likely to be arrested because of loitering or other issues related to their homelessness.
KUHNAnd so instead of spending for lodging in an apartment or other kind of rooming situation, they're in jail, the most expensive kind of housing beyond the hospital where they'll also be staying. So it's not uncommon, and I think Geoff talked about this earlier as well, for these homeless persons to cost vastly more. I mean, it's not even close than what we provide through these services, whether it's SSVF or a permanent housing such as HUD-VASH.
KUHNSot the homeless interventions are less expensive than the alternative of keeping this free beyond the moral cost. And think of the impact of children. And Danielle has talked repeatedly about families, but we're talking about children are being traumatized by this experience of having -- witnessing their family potentially breaking up because of -- they have to be split up and sent to different shelters, of constant disruptions to their schooling and their friendships. It's a very, very poisonous environment for them and in what it does to them.
NNAMDIGeoff Millard, you had some numbers?
MILLARDYes. So these numbers are for individuals in the District of Columbia. So there's going -- they would be much higher for families potentially, but for individuals, it costs the system about $60,000 per year to have an individual stay on the street. It cost the system about $50,000 a year to put them into permanent supportive housing. So that would be a voucher, case manager and all the rest. For a homeless prevention or rapid re-housing model it, costs the District about $6,000 a year for an individual. So you can see that the quicker that you can help an individual, the much cheaper it is on us.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Sam. We got an email from Barbara, who says, "Has the civilian community ever been asked to help out by offering veterans a short-term stay in a guest bedroom at a volunteer's home? I think that many people like me would like to help." Is that possible, John Kuhn?
KUHNYou know, certainly any individual can offer to open up their homes. You know, I'm not sure how that'd be organized, quite honestly, but the reality is is that many of our veterans do have extensive social networks. And by the time they become homeless or have reached that point, many of them have exhausted their social networks. And what we really want to be able to do is -- although it's a very generous idea to be able to open up your home, is we don't want that short-term solution where someone is what's called couch surfing where they're staying at one place and then another.
KUHNIt's kind of a tenuous existence. We want to be able to find a permanent solution for a person who needs housing, a place that they can call their own and a place where just as we all like to have our own place, to wake up and have all the privacy and safety and the benefits of having your own place. That's our goal.
NNAMDIHere is Robin in Washington, D.C. Robin, your turn.
ROBINHi. Thanks for taking my call. Short question. I have a friend who's a disabled Vietnam vet, very good (unintelligible) for himself. But he is disabled and without family in the area, and he's been in one housing crisis after another and is on the brink of becoming homeless. And he doesn't even know where you go. His answer to me was that the system wants you to become homeless before they can help you. What do people in this situation do?
NNAMDIGlad you brought that up because, Geoff, it's my understanding that another key part of combating homelessness is prevention. How do community groups work with vets to keep them from losing their housing in the first place, as what Robin's friend seems to be facing?
MILLARDPrevention is a big part of it, and we're going to have to do a lot more of that. Right now in our veteran's first program, we should have a waiting list for our prevention dollars that we're using, especially depending on the county surrounding the District. Some counties have local resources, some don't.
MILLARDAnd if we're going to have that lasting pack, we're going to end homelessness, we're going to have to make sure that we are doing that prevention so that we're helping those individuals who are already experiencing homelessness and making sure that more individuals don't experience homelessness in the future.
MILLARDAnd so that -- and what -- in that question, I heard you say that your friend is also, you know, has dealt with housing instability for a number of years. And so what needs to happen there is that that case manager needs to get in with that individual and figure out, OK, why is this individual having these housing crisis year after year? How can we help to stabilize this individual? Do they need more employment?
MILLARDDo they need more benefits? If their disability -- is it too low? Why is it that they're having this housing crisis year after year after year? And working with that individual on our specialist, I think, and I would ask that listener to contact us through friendshipplacedc.org and see if we can help that individual.
NNAMDIRobin, thank you very much for your time. We're almost out of time, but, Danielle, we got an email from David who says, "Can you address the importance of rape in the military as a cause of homelessness among women vets? I've heard research studies of military rape victims, and they have higher rates of homelessness, drug problems and PTSD than vets who have not been sexually assaulted."
CORAZZAThey do. Some of the estimates are up to as high as 99 percent of homeless women veterans have experienced some sort of military sexual trauma. It pains me to even say those words out loud, but it's a reality that we have to address. The problem, I think, in that situation stems from the fact that you've got -- now got a veteran who doesn't trust the system, the system being the Department of VA, the government, generally -- men in general potentially, and so they don't ask for help until it's too late.
CORAZZAAnd as I said earlier, the longer that women stay on the streets, the more likely they are to experience additional trauma and to -- and have increased problems of -- excuse me, substance abuse. And potentially, you know, military sexual trauma, in and of itself, is a mental health issue. So if they're not seeking treatment, I mean, I'm sure you guys can all see this is a spiral -- a downhill spiral.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Danielle Corazza is an Army veteran and an advisory board member with Final Salute. Danielle, thank you so much for joining us. Geoff Millard is director of Special Projects with the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place. Geoff, thank you for joining us. And John Kuhn is acting national director of Supportive Services for Veteran Families or SSVF. That's with the Department of Veterans Affairs. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo sits down with Montgomery County's new school superintendent to talk about the challenges ahead in one of the nation's largest school systems.
Local municipalities do their best to prevent emergency events. But when they do happen, like the recent deadly explosion at an apartment building in Silver Spring, local government has to respond quickly and effectively to address the short term and long term impact of the disaster.
Top officials at the United Nations are acknowledging, for the first time, that their organization played a role in a cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in 2010. The disease swept through the country as it was recovering from a catastrophic earthquake, just as the staff of the Kojo Nnamdi Show arrived to report on the disaster.