As VA works to end homelessness among Veterans by the end of 2015, partnerships of all types – including with federal, state, local and private entities – are essential in providing employment opportunities and safe and affordable housing to support homeless Veterans’ needs. These partnerships can increase the range of service offerings and thus provide better outcomes for Veterans and their families. The work of Yvette DeJesus exemplifies why partnerships play a critical role in helping to end Veteran homelessness.
DeJesus is the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program supervisor at The Transition House in St. Cloud, Florida. She works with the SSVF and the Supplemental Security Income/Social Security Disability Insurance Outreach, Access and Recovery (SSI/SSDI SOAR) programs to help re-house Veterans with disabilities who experience homelessness. DeJesus also helps eligible Veterans access SSI/SSDI benefits, which provides the income support needed by many to remain stably housed.
In one recent case, she was able help an Army Veteran who had become homeless after exiting prison. A significant medical disability contributed to the Veteran’s homelessness. After the Veteran was enrolled in the SSVF program, DeJesus was able to assist him by addressing both his housing needs and beginning the SOAR process to apply for SSI benefits. In a few short months, the Veteran was approved for SSI, which allowed him to pay the rent for the apartment DeJesus helped the Veteran find. Today, the Veteran still keeps in contact with her and reports that through SSVF and SOAR, his life has changed for the better.
What are these programs? SSVF is a federal grant program administered by VA to prevent and end homelessness among Veteran families. SSVF providers help Veterans increase their income through employment and mainstream benefits, such as SSI/SSDI, while addressing issues that can interfere with housing stability.
SOAR is a Substance Abuse and Metnal Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) initiative that helps states increase access to mainstream benefits for people with disabilities who are experiencing homeless or at risk of homelessness. The SOAR initiative helps to improve access to SSI/SSDI among Veterans through training of case managers and providing technical assistance to states and communities. By using the SOAR model, SSVF grantees help connect eligible Veterans to SSA benefits, income which can lead to sustained housing for persons who had formerly experienced homelessness and can prevent evictions for disabled Veterans.
SSVF grantees are involved in SOAR in 43 states and the District of Columbia. Currently, 146 grantees have been trained in SOAR to help Veterans access SSA benefits – compared to 72 grantees in February 2014. This represents significant progress. According to a recent issue brief by the National Center on Homelessness among Veterans, 55 percent of the Veterans assisted through the SSVF program had a disabling condition.
Jamie Gunning, grants assistant manager at Homeless Services Network of Central Florida, explains that “SSVF and SOAR promote system change. By utilizing SOAR, community capacity is increased to the extent that relationships with SSA become strategic and highly developed. This relationship then positively impacts access for all persons experiencing homelessness, including Veterans.”
Connecting Veterans with Social Security disability benefits is a critical step for increasing income stability for them and their families, as well as for providing health insurance for those who may not qualify for VA health care. Veterans may be eligible for SSI or SSDI, in conjunction with, or as an alternative to, VA disability compensation. They may also use the Medicaid health benefits that come with SSI/SSDI to supplement VA health services (Source: SAMHSA SOAR TA Center).
For more information about SSVF, please go to http://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/SSVF.asp .
For more information about SOAR, please go to http://soarworks.prainc.com/ and review the issue brief about connecting Veterans to Social Security disability benefits.
Adrienne Melendez is a regional coordinator with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program. She oversees SSVF grantees in 11 states and facilitates community planning to end Veteran homelessness. Prior to joining the VA, she led strategic planning efforts for a Continuum of Care (CoC) and oversaw federal, state and county homeless, housing, employment, transportation and social service programs. In this capacity, she also assisted in the development and implementation of the CoC’s first SOAR project. She holds a Master’s Degree from Penn State University and graduate certificates in human resources and project management.