After being discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1979, Stephen Ladeluca began making a living as an electrician near his hometown of West Warwick, Rhode Island. But in 2009, Ladeluca was injured on the job. After facing medical bills, inconsistent workers’ compensation payments and legal fees, Stephen found himself homeless, unemployed and broke.
That same year, the White House and VA announced a plan to end homelessness among Veterans. So when Ladeluca turned to the Providence VA Medical Center, the staff there was ready to help. Thanks to his VA doctors and caseworkers, Stephen was connected with extensive physical therapy, job training and safe temporary housing — all through the Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH).
The program, established in 2008 as part of a partnership between VA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has helped change the national impression of Veteran homelessness. Since 2009, the number of homeless Veterans dropped nearly 50 percent — and in 2015 alone, the number decreased by 17 percent.
To date, the HUD-VASH program has awarded more than 79,000 housing vouchers and housed more than 111,000 Veterans who were experiencing homelessness.
HUD-VASH’s success starts with its Housing First model: When Veterans have a place to call home, they are better able to benefit from other supportive services they need — such as medical care, mental health support and employment services. And when Veterans are ready, those services are made immediately available to them.
Veteran homelessness can result from many different life events, such as a move to an area with more expensive housing, service-related trauma that leads to issues like substance use, or the loss of a job, as Stephen Ladeluca experienced. Ladeluca’s story shows that providing safe and stable housing is an important step in helping homeless Veterans get back on their feet — but it is just the first.
The Housing First approach brings together a multidisciplinary group of experts — including case managers, social workers, employment specialists, peer support specialists, and clinicians — at daily team meetings, or “huddles.” At these meetings, team members discuss what specific Veterans need to secure permanent housing and to stay on track in other areas of their lives so that they can remain housed.
The coordinated case management that is at the heart of the HUD-VASH program enables VA to offer a high staff-to-Veteran ratio; deliver supportive services to Veterans where they live; visit or otherwise communicate with Veterans multiple times a week, if needed; and improve Veterans’ ability to manage their physical and mental health as well as their overall well-being.
The video above, which features VA staff members as actors, shows the holistic approach to ending homelessness in action. Team members organize the logistics of delivering services to Veterans who are in their programs and identify the types of services needed. Using this model, teams can accelerate Veterans’ connections to permanent housing, health care, employment, and other support systems — to ultimately prevent them from slipping back into homelessness.
Through the years, HUD-VASH has evolved to help Veterans like Ladeluca find and stay in permanent housing. In 2008, the program was expanded to connect public housing authorities in communities across the country with local medical centers so that they can work together to end Veteran homelessness.
Today, Stephen Ladeluca has a permanent, part-time position in education and nursing administration at the Providence VA Medical Center and lives in a nearby apartment. He is searching for a full-time position so that he can afford his rent unassisted and free up his HUD-VASH slot for another Veteran who needs it.
- Visit the VAntage Point blog to learn more about Stephen Ladeluca’s personal story of recovery.
- Visit VA’s website to learn about employment initiatives and other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness.
- Refer Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless to their local VA medical center, where VA staff is ready to assist, or urge them to call 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).
Juliana Walker is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has 17 years of experience working with chronically homeless populations and those diagnosed with a mental illness. Walker was the clinical director for a number of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) /Housing First teams in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She also served as the national director of training for Pathways to Housing, Inc., for over five years, assisting in the development of the Housing First model. Walker is currently the coordinator for the Amarillo VA Health Care System’s Housing First program, in Amarillo, Texas. The Amarillo VA’s Housing First program provides services for more than 240 Veterans and has achieved a 100 percent HUD-VASH voucher utilization rate, with 98 percent of the Veterans they have served housed. The Amarillo program uses a shared caseload model of service and has mirrored the organization of their team after a Housing First Assertive Community Treatment team.