In this episode of Chats with the Chief, Jon M. Jensen, VHA chief of staff, is joined by Monica Diaz, executive director of the VA Homeless Programs Office, where they talk about the progress toward ending Veteran homelessness and the collaborative partnerships involved.
“I even remember the name of the case manager who helped us,” said Diaz, as she candidly recounts the time, 10 years ago, when she and her husband struggled in terms of resources.
Fortunately, he is a Veteran and they were able to use the resources of the VA to get back on track.
A native of Puerto Rico, she is proud of her heritage and tells why she always uses the full names of her children. She also explains why a story about Alzheimer’s disease called “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova is one of her top five books.
Grateful for VA’s assistance in her personal life, she told her husband she wanted to do something to help the homeless.
Discussing the challenges of helping homeless Veterans in the middle of a pandemic, Diaz says her philosophy is, “There is always beauty in the middle of the mess.”
She notes the progress reducing Veteran homelessness from the 2021 Point-in-Time Count show a 10% decline in homeless Veteran in shelters since 2020.
During odd-numbered years, the PIT count covers sheltered and unsheltered persons, those living on the street or in another place not meant for human habitation.
Ending Veteran homelessness
Diaz points out that the 2021 count is the largest one-year decline in sheltered homeless since 2015. And that there has been an overall 50% decline in the past decade.
The annual PIT count is integral in helping gain a better understanding of the challenges homeless Veterans face. The economic crisis resulting from COVID-19 has increased the need for outreach to these priority groups and VA will continue to identify homeless and at-risk Veterans throughout the country in need of supportive services.
She notes that VA helps homeless Veterans find housing through a systemic approach to end Veteran homelessness. “We address the root cause of what is causing homelessness. Lack of employment, justice involved Veterans, all the different areas where homelessness can be impacted.”
She explains that access is provided to all VA services, including primary care, geriatric services, mental health, suicide prevention, and more.
Diaz discusses the unique challenges for helping Veterans during a pandemic and the resources that have helped, like emergency housing.
“We have over 40,000 Veterans in hotels and motels right now. We have distributed over 50,000 mobile phones to homeless Veterans. They are now able to reach social workers or receive mental health care.”
Diaz concludes by reminding us that we should all “see ourselves as the key to ending Veteran homelessness. Not an agency, not a group. We all, as citizens, have a responsibility to end homelessness, especially for our heroes.”