Government programs are substantially decreasing veteran homelessness in Texas

A wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Nov. 11, 2023, honors veterans on Veterans Day. (Photo by Robert Turtil/VA)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced in November that it had permanently housed 38,847 homeless veterans nationwide and surpassed its calendar year goal two months early. Organizations working to decrease veteran homelessness in Texas, where veterans make up 6.7% of the adult population, said the state is seeing the effects of that progress.

In 2007, 5,527 homeless veterans resided in Texas, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. By 2020, the number dropped to 1,948, a 65% decrease. The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said the number continued dropping to 1,711 in 2022.

Steve Berg, the chief policy officer of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said the VA has done a really good job at decreasing the veteran homeless population with assistance and outreach programs.

“I have to say, the VA has been very good at doing what they need to do,” Berg said. “There’s more work to do … one homeless veteran is too many homeless veterans, so they’re not done yet. But they’re moving in the right direction.”

According to the VA, the key to this reduction has been the Housing First model, which prioritizes getting a person into housing as quickly as possible and then seeing to needed support services. The VA offers different programs for veterans depending on their needs, including home loans and both short-term and long-term rent subsidies.

A priority has been to help veterans retain the homes they have and avoid foreclosure. The VA made 102,920 home loan guarantees in Texas in 2021 to support veteran homeowners. That year, VA loans represented 10.2 % of Texas’s home mortgage originations.

Berg said the VA also provides short-term rent subsidies designed for veterans who just need help getting back on their feet.

“If it’s more just like somebody lost their job and had a string of bad luck and ended up homeless, which is a story that happens very often with homelessness, there’s an intervention called rapid re-housing,” Berg said.

The rapid re-housing program provides short- to medium-term financial assistance and a caseworker who will help the person search for a job.

To make sure veterans are securing the resources available to them, Berg said the VA has a thorough outreach program that keeps track of veterans needing help with housing.

“Any time anybody comes in for any services from the VA, they ask them what their housing situation is,” Berg said. “If the outreach program finds someone who’s a veteran, they will make sure the VA gets in touch with them.”

Soldiers’ Angels is a nonprofit organization that works across Texas to provide support services, such as food assistance and caregiver support, to members of the military, veterans and their families. It’s one of the only nonprofit organizations that is on the VA national advisory council; its volunteers are able to work inside the VA directly with social workers.

Amy Palmer, president and CEO of Soldiers’ Angels, said the organization provides transportation to and from the VA for medical appointments and to register for housing services.

“The VA is actually the ones who register them to receive transportation,” Palmer said. “That can be medical services, but that can also be homeless services and mental health services as well.”

Palmer said the organization also works with the VA to distribute vouchers under HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, a collaborative program that pairs HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance with VA case management and supportive services for homeless veterans. HUD-VASH is designed to help homeless veterans and their families find and sustain permanent housing and access to health care, mental health treatment, substance use counseling and more.

“Markets like Houston, they have a lot of HUD-VASH vouchers to be able to accommodate those homeless veterans,” Palmer said. “Houston is one of those cities we’re really focusing on our services and ramping up our services.”

Palmer said she is most proud of the organization’s food distribution system. Especially around the holiday season.

“Just knowing how much of an impact that’s making for veterans to be able to stretch their other budget dollars. I think it’s just amazing,” Palmer said. “There’s just some amazing stories of veterans that will go out of their way to get things they need to take care of their family.”

Angelina Steel(she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Angelina Steel expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She is the executive editor at The State Press and has been with the organization throughout college. She has also interned at the Arizona Republic.