It’s not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.” — W. Edwards Deming
Deming, a well-respected statistician, reminds us that identifying the what is critical in determining how to be successful. Deming is widely known for helping to develop the sampling techniques still used by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
VA has taken a similar approach in working toward its priority goal to end Veteran homelessness, gathering and reviewing data on homelessness that then inform strategies to address it. As a result, the nation saw a nearly 50 percent reduction in the number of homeless Veterans between 2010 and 2016.
For the last four years, VA and partners at the state and community levels have been using a data-driven management platform to determine and update the number of Veterans who are homeless and track those Veterans by name so that they can be served most efficiently and effectively. The platform houses data from multiple sources, including but not limited to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point-in-Time count and the VA Homeless Registry. This web-based resource, available to homeless program officers at every VA medical center throughout the country, gives VA and its partners the ability to:
- Seamlessly share strategies and best practices for ending Veteran homelessness.
- Rapidly gain situational awareness to address emerging needs at the local level.
- Organize and integrate analysis and planning activities.
Communities that have effectively ended Veteran homelessness — or that are coming close to doing so — are using the data not only to identify where homeless Veterans are, but to also highlight gaps in services that those Veterans may need to exit homelessness.
Veteran homelessness is a multifaceted issue that goes beyond housing. It is rooted in complex causes, including mental health challenges and substance abuse, and it is affected by the state of the economy and availability of affordable housing. With data on services that support Veterans holistically, VA and its partners can see where additional resources may need to be allocated as well as what Veterans in a particular community may need in the future.
These community-level efforts are supported by coordinated federal technical assistance and funding for homeless programs, which include:
VA’s adoption of a data-driven approach linking operational planning to a careful assessment of gaps in services generated significant increases in the annual number of homeless Veterans placed into permanent housing. For instance, in fiscal 2015, the first year of full adoption of this model, VA placed nearly 65,000 homeless Veterans into permanent housing — about a 21 percent increase over the 53,000 of homeless Veterans placed into permanent housing in fiscal year 2014.
This data-driven approach to ending Veteran homelessness helps all of us — national organizations like VA, community groups, and individuals in every corner of the U.S. — ensure that we’re doing our best to give every Veteran a safe, stable place to call home and the resources they need to stay there.
To learn how you can get involved in your community, and to see a full list of the communities that have ended Veteran homelessness, visit va.gov/homeless.
Adam Ruege is a licensed independent social worker who serves as the operations liaison in the Homeless Program Office. Ruege is centrally involved in homeless program field operations, and is the national lead in the ongoing development and implementation of the integrated operational planning model employed by VA homeless programs.
Dr. Keith Harris is a clinical psychologist who currently serves as national director of clinical operations in the Homeless Program Office. In his role over clinical operations, Harris provides guidance and oversight to the clinical programs and services in the VHA Homeless Program continuum.