Homeless Veterans

VA Expands Partnerships, but Effectiveness of Homeless Programs Is Unclear Gao ID: T-HEHS-99-150 June 24, 1999

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that about one-third of the homeless adults in America are veterans, many of whom suffer from psychiatric and substance abuse problems. VA has launched several programs during the last decade to address the special needs of homeless veterans. These targeted programs supplement the health care services provided through VA medical facilities. Federal agencies serving the homeless, including VA, have begun to coordinate their activities with each other and with community-based service providers. These efforts are intended to overcome barriers to service, avoid unnecessary duplication of services, and enhance the delivery of services. This testimony discusses (1) VA's programs to address homelessness, including efforts made in partnership with community-based groups, and (2) what VA knows about the effectiveness of its homeless programs. of its homeless programs.

GAO noted that: (1) in addition to the need for housing, homeless veterans typically have multiple problems, which may include medical and mental health problems, limited work skills, and long-standing social isolation; (2) research suggests that effective interventions for the homeless involve comprehensive, integrated services to address their multiple needs; (3) VA provides medical, mental health, and substance abuse treatment to homeless veterans through its health care facilities; (4) in addition, VA's targeted homeless programs address a variety of nonmedical needs by providing services such as case management, employment assistance, and transitional housing; (5) to leverage its efforts, VA has developed partnerships with other federal departments, state and local government agencies, and community-based organizations; (6) while much activity has occurred and many millions have been spent, VA has little information about the long-term effectiveness of its homeless programs; (7) VA has conducted some research over the years to identify program outcomes, but methodological weaknesses in those studies have limited the extent to which they can be used to assess program effectiveness; (8) as a result, little is known about whether veterans served by VA's homeless programs remain housed or employed, or whether they instead relapse into homelessness; (9) for this reason, GAO recommended that VA initiate a series of program evaluation studies designed to clarify the effectiveness of its homeless programs; (10) VA concurred with this recommendation; and (11) it has one study of outcomes for veterans judged ready for permanent housing under way and plans several more on its new homeless initiatives.

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