Homeless Veterans Programs:
Bed Capacity, Service, and Communication Gaps Challenge the Grant and Per Diem Program
GAO-07-1265T, Sep 27, 2007
The Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs asked GAO to discuss its recent work on the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program. GAO reported on this subject in September 2006, focusing on (1) VA's estimates of the number of homeless veterans and transitional housing beds, (2) the extent of collaboration involved in the provision of GPD and related services, and (3) VA's assessment of program performance.
VA estimates that about 196,000 veterans nationwide were homeless on a given night in 2006, based on its annual survey, and that the number of transitional beds available through VA and other organizations was not sufficient to meet the needs of eligible veterans. The GPD program has quadrupled its capacity to provide transitional housing for homeless veterans since 2000, and additional growth is planned. As the GPD program continues to grow, VA and its providers are also grappling with how to accommodate the needs of the changing homeless veteran population that will include increasing numbers of women and veterans with dependents. The GPD providers we visited collaborated with VA, local service organizations, and other state and federal programs to offer a broad array of services designed to help veterans achieve the three goals of the GPD program--residential stability, increased skills or income, and greater self-determination. However, most GPD providers noted key service and communication gaps that included difficulties obtaining affordable permanent housing and knowing with certainty which veterans were eligible for the program, how long they could stay, and when exceptions were possible. VA data showed that many veterans leaving the GPD program were better off in several ways--over half had successfully arranged independent housing, nearly one-third had jobs, one-quarter were receiving benefits, and significant percentages showed progress with substance abuse, mental health or medical problems or demonstrated greater self-determination in other ways. Some information on how veterans fare after they leave the program was available from a onetime follow-up study of 520 program participants, but such data are not routinely collected. We recommended that VA take steps to ensure that GPD policies and procedures are consistently understood and to explore feasible means of obtaining information about the circumstances of veterans after they leave the GPD program. VA concurred and, following our review, has taken several steps to improve communications and to develop a process to track veterans' progress shortly after they leave the program. However following up at a later point might yield a better indication of success.