Significant Strides Being Made to End Veteran Homelessness in Orange County
Since the establishment of United to End Homelessness, our goal has been clear: end homelessness in Orange County. Through collaboration, advocacy, meaningful partnerships, ground-breaking program introductions, and significant and milestone funding opportunities, we are making real progress. In the area of veteran homelessness in particular, it’s the power of working together that has started the movement for impactful change – to make sure that every former servicemen and women in Orange County have a place to call home.
Introducing Marching Home to End Veteran Homelessness
The Marching Home to End Veteran Homelessness initiative is a multi-faceted plan created under the direction of the Office of Care Coordination and OC Community Resources. The intention is to end homelessness for all veterans living in Orange County by December 2020. In order to achieve such an ambitious goal, the plan necessitates local, regional, and federal partners to collaborate and share resources, ideas, and information.
Many notable Orange County leaders are involved in this initiative, including the Orange County Board of Supervisors, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Orange County Veterans and Military Families Collaborative, Public Housing Authorities, the OC Health Care Agency and many others.
United To End Homelessness is excited to also be part of this collaborative effort to help provide housing and services for veterans experiencing homelessness in Orange County.
A key factor of The Marching Home to End Veteran Homelessness initiative is to leverage the data collected from the 2019 Point In Time Count to identify major trends in the local homeless veteran population and provide accurate information for use in the Veterans Registry.
Some encouraging information emerged in this year’s count, including a 30.4% decrease in the number of homeless veterans living in Orange County since 2015.
Although this is certainly a step in the right direction, the count identified a total of 311 veterans were still experiencing homelessness in Orange County. Out of that population, 68.2% were unsheltered while only 31.8% were in either an emergency or transitional shelter.
There is significant work to do be done to end veteran homelessness in Orange County for good, and several key initiatives have been identified to make meaningful strides to reaching this goal.
Updating the Veterans Registry Is Critical
The Veterans Registry defines a veteran as “anyone who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, including persons who served on active duty from the military reserves or the National Guard, regardless of how long they served or the type of discharge they received”.
To comply with this definition, homeless individuals were asked the following two questions during the Point in Time Count:
- Have you served in the United States Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard)?
- Were you ever called into active duty as a member of the National Guard or as a Reservist?
By answering in the affirmative, the individual was confirmed as a veteran in the count. But to be added to the Veterans Registry as well, the individual also needed to provide one of several pieces of identifying information such as a Veterans Health Administration Veteran’s Identity Card, a Veterans Choice Card or a Veteran’s Department of Defense (DD) Form 214 Certificate of Release Discharge from Active Duty.
Once added to the Veterans Registry, the veteran is provided with an eligibility screening for U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Healthcare and other services such as legal counsel, education assistance and housing assistance such as a Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher.
During the 2019 Point In Time Count, 95 veterans were able to be added to the Veterans Registry, although many more might have been added if they had had access to the Internet and the technology needed to obtain one of the documents necessary to confirm their veteran’s status.
Establishing a Framework for Better Communication
In addition to establishing a more accurate Veterans Registry for Orange County, The Marching Home to End Veteran Homelessness effort also aims to provide a framework for street outreach and shelter providers to remain in contact with veterans experiencing homelessness at a minimum of twice a month.
By increasing this coordination homeless veterans are more likely to receive access to emergency shelter and healthcare when they need it most. Additionally, with increased street outreach, the Veterans Registry can be continually and accurately updated throughout the year to help identify how much housing is needed for the homeless veteran population.
Creating Incentives to Increase Housing Solutions
These housing solutions are realized by utilizing special vouchers awarded to the community by the federal government. These are called U.S. Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers and they provide rental assistance for homeless veterans and their families.
To qualify for one of these vouchers in Orange County, the veteran needs to meet three criteria. The veteran must:
- Be experiencing homelessness
- Have an income below $32,450 (for one person)
- Be eligible for VA healthcare.
However, these vouchers are only at their most useful when there are landlords available and willing to be part of the housing solution for homeless veterans in Orange County.
Through our Welcome Home OC program, United To End Homelessness is proud to offer meaningful incentives to Orange County landlords who are open to participating in this partnership and housing solution. In a historic victory for Orange County, Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris secured $2.9 million in the 2019-2020 California State Budget to fund housing for Orange County veteran’s experiencing homelessness – that state money will directly fund the Welcome Home OC program and expand its network of property owners and available units as well as increase the capacity of their service provider partners.
In return for participation from property owners, United To End Homelessness offers landlords valuable incentives such as security deposits, application fee payments, contingency funds for minor improvements or repairs, unit holding fee payments and many other business benefits. This program constitutes a win-win scenario for both parties and with its success, will help to secure much-needed housing units for homeless veterans.
Cooperation Is Crucial to Program Success
As of April 2019, between three housing authorities there were 405 HUD-VASH vouchers available to be used to help house homeless veterans and their families. But in order to provide this assistance, it is imperative that community partners and members continue to collaborate, cooperate, and create housing solutions that make real change in our community.
It is programs like Welcome Home OC and The Marching Home to End Veterans Homelessness initiative that show what progress is possible when many different partners work together. Only as a unified community can we continue to reduce veteran homelessness in Orange County and reach our goal of eradicating it entirely. If you are interested in learning more about Welcome Home OC or how you can help contribute to our campaign, please click here.