Moving a Veteran from homelessness into a permanent home should ideally be a quick process. Yet the reality is that it sometimes takes a few weeks, or months, to transition a Veteran to an identified housing unit.
Community-based “bridge housing” can cover these gaps; however, within the mix of homeless programs offered by VA, this type of short-term housing solution has been historically limited.
That is, until now. In a March 1 letter, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson encouraged VA’s Grant and Per Diem (GPD) grantees to use up to 50 percent of their transitional housing beds nationwide for short-stay bridge housing as a way to speed Veterans’ exit from homelessness. Though length of stay in bridge housing can and should be individually determined based on Veteran need, it is generally not expected to exceed 90 days.
“As the nation marches toward the goal of ending and preventing Veteran homelessness, VA must make sure housing needs and available VA resources match up,” Gibson said. “The bridge housing option encourages GPD grantees to innovate and find more ways to make homelessness among Veterans even more rare and brief.”
Moving from Housing Ready to Housing First
State, local and tribal governments and nonprofits receive GPD funding to develop and operate housing and/or service centers for Veterans who are homeless. The “grant” part of the program funds 65 percent of the costs involved in acquiring, building, renovating or expanding housing facilities. “Per diem” funds help offset some of the costs associated with operating supportive housing or service centers.
When the GPD program began in 1994, the Housing First approach to ending homelessness was not widely practiced. Back then, it was thought that homeless individuals needed time to get “housing ready”—to complete substance use treatment or resolve mental health issues—before moving into a home of their own.
Housing First calls for homeless persons to move into permanent housing as quickly as practical, even if they have unresolved substance use or mental health issues. Practitioners of Housing First find that, once stably housed, Veterans are able to take advantage of supportive services to sustain their housing and rebuild their lives. And as more communities meet the national goal of ending Veteran homelessness, the need for longer term transitional housing has dropped.
Advancing a new vision
Recognizing the importance of GPD better aligning with Housing First goals and to broaden the array of housing options, VA is proposing a gradual transformation of the program. Under this new vision, GPD will support three types of housing: bridge housing, service-intensive transitional housing and transition-in-place housing, a successfully piloted approach that converts temporary dwellings to leased, permanent housing units for Veterans.
Although the complete transformation of GDP will require legislative tweaks to the program rules, current GPD grantees can move right away to use up to half of their transitional housing units for bridge housing.
Homeless Veterans who have secured permanent housing may face a short move-in delay while the permanent housing arrangements are finalized. GPD grantees can now use bridge housing to minimize Veterans’ hardship during this time and promote their successful move to a home of their own.
To do so, grantees must submit a written “change of scope” request to the VA GPD National Program Office for approval. Grantees should keep the following additional directions in mind:
- Plan bridge housing services in close coordination with VA homeless programs, Supportive Services for Veteran Families providers and local continuums of care.
- Keep i individual service plans very short term and focused on the move to permanent housing.
As requests are approved, VA will track Veterans participating in bridge housing services to better gauge their housing and services needs on an ongoing basis.
These recent changes to the GPD program demonstrate VA’s ongoing commitment to refining programs as needed to meet the evolving needs of Veterans and their family members.
Find out more by visiting the GPD website and downloading the letter and frequently asked questions or contacting the VA GPD National Program Office at 877-332-0334 or via email to VA Grant and Per Diem Program.
If you encounter Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless, encourage them to call or visit their local VA Medical Center, where VA staff are ready to assist. Veterans and their families can also access VA services by calling 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).
Jeffery Quarles is the director of the Grant and Per Diem National Program Office in Tampa, Florida. He has served as the program’s Director since 2012 and has worked with the GPD National Program Office since 2006. Mr. Quarles been with the Department of Veterans Affairs since 1993. He is a Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor and holds a Masters degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Bowling Green State University.