VHA strives toward racial equity in homeless programs

VHA strives toward racial equity in homeless programs

In response to the disproportionate number of minorities experiencing homelessness in the United States, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Homeless Programs Office (HPO) established the Racial Equity and Racial Justice Workgroup to better address the needs of these veterans. Historically, some racial and ethnic groups experience higher rates of homelessness in the U.S., which are also reflected in homeless veterans.

The establishment of the Racial Equity and Racial Justice Workgroup stemmed from advocates for people experiencing homelessness recognizing the need to look at homeless services from a racial equity lens. This awareness, coupled with ongoing police violence propelled HPO to create action plans and build an infrastructure for promoting racial equity.

The workgroup will focus on three distinct areas:

·      Policy and program improvements

·      Direct patient care improvements

·      Staff support

In 2022, the workgroup will conduct an organizational assessment of HPO that will give them insights and enable them to best plan the next steps. This assessment will help them identify and address disparities in access and outcomes for veterans engaged in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) homeless programs and further develop a racial equity dashboard and quality improvement initiative.

The racial equity dashboard will allow staff to measure population segments by providing race and ethnicity information on total homeless populations, access to services, exit outcomes and lengths of time in programs or housing processes. Additionally, the workgroup will better educate staff and ensure competency understanding racial justice and equity and develop a mentorship network for local homeless program staff. These reports will then provide more holistic information at the national, Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) and local levels. This, says VA, is what will drive the implementation of solution-oriented changes.

This is part of VA’s commitment to reducing veteran homelessness.

“Due to significant investments from Congress in the last three years, we have substantial resources to invest in homeless prevention,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said. “We also have proven strategies that have not only decreased the number of homeless veterans, but also prevented veterans and their families from experiencing homelessness in the first place. What remains is the energy and effort needed to finish the job.” 

VA and its community partners will place at least 38,000 veterans experiencing homelessness into permanent housing in 2022. This is an increase of more than 10% from 2021. Since 2010, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness in the U.S. has declined by nearly half. More than 920,000 veterans and their family members were permanently housed or prevented from becoming homeless since then.

Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness should contact the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-424-3838.