- The results of the HUD-VASH study strongly support the use of housing vouchers to reduce veterans’ homelessness.
- Between 2008 and 2017, researchers found that the number of permanent supportive housing units per 100,000 people increased by 45%. The results suggest that 60% of this increase was due to the HUD-VASH vouchers. Each additional voucher also decreased the number of homeless veterans by 1.
- The program was especially effective for unsheltered veterans, as 55% of the program’s reduction in homelessness came from those who were unsheltered.
Between 2008 and 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development collaborated with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to distribute 88,000 Housing and Urban Development Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers to veterans in need. With veteran homelessness on the rise following 9/11, the need for housing solutions only increased with the dawn of the Great Recession and the slow recovery of the U.S. economy. But policymakers responded. In 2017, the program had grown to fund 87,864 vouchers with an annual cost of $675 million. Nearly 85% of the veterans who were offered a voucher decided to participate in the program, and 90% of all issued vouchers led to housing solutions. Of the veterans who received a voucher, 80% were chronically homeless and 56% were unsheltered.
Still, while researchers observed a decline in veterans’ homelessness, they disagreed about whether HUD-VASH vouchers contributed. LEO’s HUD-VASH study is the first to evaluate the direct impact of HUD-VASH vouchers on veterans’ homelessness. By using four data sets—annual point-in-time estimates of the homeless population, annual housing inventory counts of homeless resources, counts of HUD-VASH grants distributed to housing authorities, and county-level data—LEO researchers matched Continuum of Care data from 350 areas to explore the effect of HUD-VASH vouchers on reducing veterans’ homelessness.
What We Learned
The HUD-VASH study produced results that strongly support the program’s efficacy in reducing veterans’ homelessness.
Between 2008 and 2017, researchers found that the number of permanent supportive housing units per 100,000 people increased by 45%. The results suggest that 60% of this increase was due to the HUD-VASH vouchers. Said another way, it appears that the greater availability of HUD-VASH vouchers boosts the capacity of permanent supportive housing providers, increasing the number of permanent supportive housing units that are available in a specific area.
Similarly, for each voucher issued, the number of homeless veterans decreased by 1. The program was especially effective for veterans experiencing unsheltered homelessness—while 45% of the program’s reduction in homelessness came from the sheltered population, 55% came from unsheltered veterans.
LEO researchers conclude that veterans’ homelessness would have increased significantly in the absence of the HUD-VASH program. Estimates suggest that without the vouchers, the homeless veteran population would have reached 130,000 by 2017. But with the HUD-VASH program in place, there were still 40,000 homeless veterans in 2017. The evidence of the HUD-VASH study will help policymakers and service providers lower this number even further.
Where We’re Going
This research presents clear evidence that HUD-VASH vouchers significantly reduce veterans’ homelessness. Still, the program is dependent on federal funding. In 2017, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs proposed to cut $460 million from the program. And again in 2019, the President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 included no new funding for the HUD-VASH program. It also eliminated all new vouchers.
But in October of 2019, LEO co-founder William Evans traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify on Capitol Hill in support of the HUD-VASH program. Informed by the strong evidence of LEO’s HUD-VASH study, Congress requested an additional $42 million to be added to the $43 million of new funding allocated to HUD-VASH for fiscal year 2020. With $40 million granted, the program was funded at $83 million. And at the writing of this piece, legislators are in the process of drafting a new policy that, if passed, would provide every homeless veteran in the U.S. with a housing voucher.
But today, numerous questions remain. We need to know more about the cost-effectiveness of permanent supportive housing programs like HUD-VASH. Further study will not only provide more evidence about what works, but it will also help to build better solutions for the men and women who have sacrificed themselves for our own safety, liberty, and happiness. They deserve so much more.
The full results of the HUD-VASH study were published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2019.
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