34. The VA’s Definition of Homelessness..Whew

Update March 11, 2008 New VA Definition of homeless veteran I personally cannot believe it myself.

Boy is this one tough to carry out but I was asked for it so I found it.
The definition of homelessness and criteria is found under the
McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act or aka Title 42 Chapter 119 of the United States Code
Now here is a rub that I found in a report before congress ,
Report to the Chairman, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, House of Representatives,it says that certain homeless veterans do not meet the VA’s homeless criteria even though the veterans met the criteria of the McKinney- Vento Act without stating what their criteria was. So, if the McKinney-Vento Act is the law of the land, being the United States Code and the definite and final criteria on what homelessness is, how can the Veterans Administration impose a secondary criteria in front of congress? Is this not illegal? By the way, no where in the report before congress does it list what the criteria is,so how in the heck did the congress or their staffers that read the report and briefed them on what it contained even know what it was. This is an injustice to the homeless veterans out there.

In otherwords, Homelessness is whatever the Veterans Administration says it is any day of the week. That explains also in the same report how homelessness can go from 313,000 veterans to 192,000 veterans at the same time I am learning.

Since this subject interested me greatly, I tried to find a coresponding figure at HUD for the 192,000 for homeless veterans since they claimed this figure came from Huds continuum of care figures. I searched and searched HUD, HHS and other government agencies and other than the VA report could not even find any other reference to this number anywhere. I am wondering where this mystical number even came from. This is the federal government, and accounting figures are the same everywhere, and where a number comes from one department it should be able to be cross referenced. Bean counters (accountants) like things nice and neat, but this one cannot be cross referenced at the moment. Actually I am adding this, now, If you google “192000 homeless veterans GAO” you will come up with two main hits, The VA and Me!


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11 Responses to “34. The VA’s Definition of Homelessness..Whew”

  1. 1 - michael -
    October 6, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Actually, neither the VA’s numbers nor HUD’s numbers regarding homeless Veteran’s are accurate.

    The number of homless American Vets is closer to 500,000, with roughly some 271,000 of them having to sleep out of doors on any given night of the year.

    The VA, as usual is just trying to cover their own you-know-whats.

    – michael –

  2. 2 Jim Tabb
    October 6, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    You said: “it says that certain homeless veterans do not meet the VA’s homeless criteria even though the veterans met the criteria of the McKinney- Vento ACt without stating what their criteria was.”

    I belive this applies to homeless veterans that meet the first part of the act (no fixed regular residence) but not the second part (shelter, institution or unfit place).

    In other words if a homeless vet takes temporary residence with a friend, or in a doubled up rooming house, or a motel, they are not considered homeless by the VA even though they are technically homeless under the act.

    The problem is those that meet criteria (1) usually are not counted (no way to do it) but in fact they are just as homeless as someone in a shelter (who is counted). Home is a place where you can count on making your own rules and can count on not being put out due to the friend or relative getting tired of putting up with you. Moving around from friend to friend means you are in fact still homeless.

    The VA considers that both parts have to be met, but HUD and the rest of the world consideres either part to mean homeless.


  3. 3 wanderingvet
    October 6, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    I cannot see the legality of the Veterans Administration being able to add any criteria additional without challenge. It is a wonder, that someone that is not more disgruntled like the ACLU has not looked at something like that. Especially since they love homeless advocacy. Also I have noticed it is hard to find a checklist of the VA’s homeless criteria anywhere like it is a guarded state secret. You cannot find it under the VA’ Homeless website.

  4. 4 jim tabb
    October 7, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    The problem is this: The VA has developed a new criteria in conjunction with HUD for their own purposes. That of the “Chronically homeless veteran”. This is their “target” group now, so they define that but not the plain vanilla homeless vet and represents a smaller number.

    The VA has decided to invest in that group of veterans by building transitional housing and/or supportive housing. That way they can spend a lot of money on a few projects for a few vets and at the same time get a lot of publicity each time they open one.

    I’ve written a few stories on those kinds of things. They spend a few million to build 40 untis for a few chronically homeless vets (which is laudable) but in fact there are 2 thousands of homeless vets in the same local area.

    Just the same it makes more news flash for the senator or representative for that district when they open a new facility. Meantime the 1960 homeless vets not getting a suite get a few cents a day in funding, and little support because the funds are used on the housing for a few.

    Same thing is happening in the non veteran homeless sector, by the way.


  5. 5 Anonymous
    October 9, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Many of the comments and complaints about vet’s could be solved if the US govt would stop making all this stupid rules and regulations. These rules and regulations are imposed to make it impossible for a normal person to deal with.

    I am a vet that suffered T
    BI (Traumatic brain injury) while in the USAF and have lived a crappy life as a result, have been homeless and have literally gotten no where because of red tape and rules. these are just set in place to make it hard to impossible to get help and you would think the US govt would take care of their war machine.

    It is a mystery to me that the US govt can even maintain a military force the way vets are treated. the word is just not out there yet and if it ever is, this country will suffer greatly.

    no one really cares about the vet and his/her situation or something would be done.

    If you are reading this and you are in the armed forces, stop and run before you end up like myself and/or thousands of other vets that are used up and hung out to dry.

    peace to all, mike from NM

  6. 6 Kitty
    February 5, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    I’m curious where Michael got his numbers of homeless vets (500,000 with 271,000 sleeping on the street any given night)? Who conducted the research and reported those numbers? Were these extrapolions? If so, what count was it based on? How long ago was this count done? HUD has gone a long way towards refining its data collection to more accurately count homeless clients and trend their uses of services (check out the AHAR report 2007 – Annual Homeless Assessment Report, released April 2007) by implementing a data collection tool called HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) that must be implemented by every single Continuum of Care (which encompass the entire geographic landscape of the US plus some other territories).

    As a point of interest, the only federal agency that has a definition of homeless different from the McKinney Vento is the education department. But there is a difference in definition between chronic homeless and homeless. Recent research indicates that chronic homeless (regardless of veteran status) use the majority of the resources for homeless programs even though they are the smallest subset of homeless. Because chronic homeless are more consistently in crisis, they use a vastly higher percent of emergency services, which are substantially more expensive than non-crisis services, and are far more likely to need intervention for healthcare and treatment services. This is why the federal agencies are putting so much emphasis on decreasing the number of chronic homeless – the cost of providing them ongoing emergency services is more than creating and placing them in housing units and getting them stabilized into treatment services (see Maine’s Housing First Cost Benefit Study – 2007 as a good example – but there are plenty of others – check out the recent article about Million Dollar Murphy). The other thing this particular study showed is that it not only cost less to house the chronic homeless, but realignmet of the use of the funds for treatment services provided stability from crisis for individuals and they were better able to move towards self-sufficiency and increased personal self-esteem. Individual programs can expand their definition (the HHS PATH program, for instance, which also serves at-risk of homelessness clients), but they must make sure that either the funding allows for it or that additional, external funds pay for the at-risk activities.

    There is collaborative work being done by HUD, HHS and the VA on utilizing the available funds better. They are developing common outcomes for their programs, but much of that realignment of funds depends greatly on each of the agencies to collect good data in the field so that it is dependable to make decisions on. One of the top barriers to serving homeless vets is their lack of self-identification as vets. And program eligibility seems to be more directly linked to service eras, theatres of engagement, and discharge status than the homeless definition itself.

    I actually found this blog because I was looking for a VA definition of an “episode” of homelessness. Great blog!

    Thank You for the compliment Kitty.

    Personally I take all of my data as comparisons from VA, HUD, and various state level reporting. The key element of reporting is that the individual states are repporting hard figures due to the fact that they have to have a per name and social security number per those they serve for the subsidiary funding. The number of homeless veterans is far greater than those aceded to by the Veterans Administration.

    The fact in the GAO report http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06859.pdf that the GAO is quoting the VA as 1 in 3 homeless are veterans vs less than 23% (or 1 in 4 are homeless vets) per the VA’s other numbers is stymying. In the same report if there were only 700,000 homeless and 1 in 3 were vets that meant 210,000 of the 700,000 homeless were veterans. A difference of 16,000 to start with in comparison to the VA’s 194,000. The numbers tumble from there between VA memos, State Reports and HUD Reporting. The VA does have a seperate definition of homelessness to include the number of people in a shelter room (they will not count more than the fire marshall will allow, so any extras do not get counted), and those homeless that are living with relatives do not count, though they are living day to day.

    As the VA does say repeatedly these are estimates. Of course the VA fails to mention rarely that their reduction from 2003-2004 of -121,000 homeless vets was a wild guess on their behalf too.

    Just some figures there.


  7. 7 Kitty
    February 6, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    I’m bit confused, so please bare with me. When you say states are reporting hard data via name & ssn, do you mean VA programs? or HUD programs? and when you mention subsidiary funding, do you mean specific funding for emergency shelters, transitional housing, permanent housing projects, and permanent supportive housing – or VA/ HUD funding reporting requirements in general? I, for one, would be astonished to find any state that is accurately reporting their homeless population, regardless of subpopulation breakdowns (although I think it is slowly improving). Additionally, states and communities are bound by client confidentiality and data security issues – they could only use the name and ssn to perhaps do an rudimentary unduplicated count within the community itself and rarely at a statewide – thereby vastly increasing the probability of counting a single person multiple times due to the transient nature of homeless. Although I would suspect that of all the federal government agencies, VA would be the most likely to have the authorization to use name and SSN, but we both know that they are not serving a fraction of their potential clients in their programs, so the numbers are only as good as whose actually in the programs.

    HUD also does not count persons “doubled up” in their definition of homeless (counting percariously housed would also have to include any person in substandard housing, which sadly is a huge percentage of the population of the US) – but they do include all clients within a shelter – HUD counts all clients in emergency shelter, transitional housing, and all clients found living in places not meant for habitation as homeless. Counting sheltered clients is reasonably easy (although unduplicating them is not), but counting street homeless is nearly impossible in the best of situations because the outreach workers are rarely able to get a name or ssn in that setting.

    I would agree that there are significantly more veterans that are homeless than what we currently know – and many more are expected as servicemen and women return from Iraq, Afghanistan, and various other theatres of operation. The question is, how do HUD or HHS outreach workers engage veterans so that they identify as veterans so that they can be routed to the unique set of services only they qualify for? What are the questions they need to ask to find out if the client is a vet or not? and why wouldn’t a veteran identify in a crisis situation like homelessness so that they can be connected to rightful income supports, housing, and benefits? I am very interested in your thoughts on this.

    The States and in turn their counties, in providing services, supply the data directly to HUD by name, SSN and by Veteran, non Veteran Status for appropriate payments in return to them for their services they provide on per diem. That is also the same for shelters under per diem programs under contract to the VA. See CHALENG and Grant and Per Diem Providers Reports. The fact that this data is tallied by three seperate agencies in the cases of the GAO (Government Accounting Office), HUD, and the VA is overlooked as far as their being a lot of hard data being over looked out there or being downplayed by the VA and/or HUD. VA just seems to count those homeless veterans that it provides limited medical services for since it is all it can manage to do other than refer them back to the shelter providers. It seems the between the HUD and VA Secretary there is a tacit agreement to stay out of each others way in the data pool…

  8. 8 Kitty
    February 6, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    A point of clarification – HUD can collect name and SSN, but only for the purposes of creating a unique ID and de-duplication efforts – and it can never be reported as it is personal protected information. So they can collect it and use it locally, but cannot forward the name/ssn beyond their own closed system to facilitate de-duplication at a more expansive level.

    The VA data maybe duplicated unfortunately. Their method of reporting information is often incomplete at best. Their method is also by region. This means, if a veteran moves to a different state, he has to go through a re-intake in the new VA region and is probably going to be re-counted again.

    This is a rare case though, as most homeless rarely move from their geographical areas in hopes of becoming re-assimilated in the area they are from.

  9. 9 Kitty
    February 8, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    The VA does seem to have an odd little system for collecting data and evaluating program effectiveness 🙂
    I am intrigued by your comment on transient homeless – is a veteran more likely to settle in communities where VA services are more readily available (ie, a VA hosptial, near a base, etc.) or return to their hometowns? It seems to me that the VA has a really hard time providing services to deserving veterans in rural areas…

    Well the VA is not going to bring the mountain to Mohammed of course and no matter what they say of their “Homeless Outreach” they are not going out actively looking outside the metro areas of their VA’s looking for their lost veterans either. The typical veteran is going to settle into the area where he or she is most comfortable. Mainly starting with family, then when things do not work out, to friends (the couch homeless) until someone has that “frank talk” with them. Then, over 70% still tend to hang out in the areas of which they had their best memories in, or feel known in. Rarely, do they themselves go to the VA without coercion from loved ones, and if they have done so in the past, tend to look at the VA with a sense of distrust or apathy.

    Those in rural areas, are removed from VA services for the most part. In places like rural Ohio, they have improved the services on the local level to have the VA directly fund Veteran Services at some of the county levels. Those homeless veterans in the rural areas are extremely undercounted and undertreated.

    Good questions.


  10. 10 Brian
    February 11, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Why can’t a homeless veteran walk into the VA and tell them that they are homeless and then the VA say “We have a home for you!” instead of arranging a “veteran designated” mat at the local rescue mission with all the crack-heads the veteran went to the VA to get away from? WHY not?
    And also why are the VA programs so expensive for the taxpayers but are the worst prison-type slum conditions and minimal of minimum standards for the veterand. I can’t figure out $1800 a month mats on the floor; shoot the Super 8 Suites are only $675 a month with pool and free FRESH full breakfast and paper delivered. Where does the money go?

  11. 11 Kitty
    February 13, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I wish I had an answer for your questions, but I’m searching for them myself. I do not understand why the VA is incapable of providing for veterans. You would think they would plan for that.

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