Commonwealth launches innovative pilot with federal VA
to help end veteran homelessness

BOSTON – Thursday, January 5, 2012 – The Patrick Murray Administration today joined officials from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness to announce a new report showing homelessness among veterans in Massachusetts has dropped 21 percent since January 2011, nearly twice the rate of reduction nationally. The Administration today also launched a new federally funded pilot program that will serve 50 chronically homeless veterans in the Boston Metro area.

“We are ending homelessness among veterans,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “Today, thanks to the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Murray, our Department of Veterans’ Services and our federal partners, we are seeing significant progress. But we must keep going to ensure that the men and women who have served our country in uniform have access to all the benefits their service has earned them.”

“By working across agencies and in partnership with many advocates and service providers, Massachusetts continues to make great strides in providing resources for our military servicemen and women,” said Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Services and chair of the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness. “We welcome this great news, but there is plenty more work to be done. Our Administration will continue to work with local, state and federal partners to help individuals and families, including our veteran population, transition to affordable and stable housing.”

Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services (DVS) Secretary Coleman Nee delivered the  announcement  today  with  VA officials  at  the  New  England  Center  for  Homeless  Veterans. The findings come from the 2011 supplement to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report, which was prepared by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Officials from the VA credited innovative programming, a committed network of providers and Massachusetts’ strong benefits system for veterans as contributing factors to the Commonwealth far exceeding the national rate of decline in veteran homeless.

The Patrick-Murray Administration’s new pilot program will supplement these efforts by offering comprehensive, peer-to-peer services to 50 chronically homeless veterans receiving HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers in the Boston area. The Statewide Housing Advocacy for Reintegration and Prevention (SHARP) initiative, to be administered by DVS, will offer peer support, mental health services, psychiatric evaluation and linkages to emergency shelter to veterans recently placed in supportive housing at a veteran-centric facility. The team will also identify and enroll new homeless veterans in the HUD-VASH program.

Through a $323,000 grant from the VA, the initiative will rely on an existing network of veteran service providers dedicated to supporting homeless veterans. Using these new funds, DVS has contracted for four peer support specialists, one substance abuse counselor and one psychiatrist to provide care coordination services. The Commonwealth has also established working agreements with the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, HopeFound, the Lynn Housing Authority, the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, the Pine Street Inn, St. Francis House and Veterans’ Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill to identify veterans and work with DVS to move the veterans toward supportive housing.

The SHARP program is a collaborative effort between the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services; the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; VA New England Health Care System (Network 1); the National Center for Homelessness Among Veterans; the VA Health Center in Bedford; the VA Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; the University of Massachusetts Medical School; and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and HUD have worked with more than 4,000 community agencies across the country to successfully house 33,597 veterans in permanent, supportive housing with dedicated case managers and access to high-quality VA health care. In Massachusetts, DVS works with the VA and more than 30 contracted providers to offer emergency beds, transitional beds and permanent beds on VA campuses and elsewhere. The Commonwealth also applied for and was awarded 1,035 HUD-VASH vouchers between 2008 and 2011. The VASH program combines Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance for homeless veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the VA, which offers these services for participating veterans at VA Medical Centers and community-based clinics. Massachusetts anticipates an additional 225 vouchers in FY12.

“We’ve got a sacred duty to keep faith with those who have worn the uniform of our country. There’s nothing more fundamental than making sure they a roof over their heads and the services they need so that the bravest Americans who have given so much aren’t sleeping on the streets of Massachusetts,” said Senator John Kerry. “The Patrick-Murray Administration has been ambitious in combating homelessness among veterans and I believe that effort is showing results we can build upon.”

“The announcement of the new pilot program to battle chronic veteran homelessness in Boston is welcome news,” said Senator Scott Brown. “Our heroes should never be denied the housing, social or medical assistance they need to get back on track. We owe our veterans in Massachusetts and across the nation these kind of comprehensive, community-based programs that help them move forward in life and eventually secure and maintain meaningful employment.”

“Our veterans deserve the very best services that we can offer,” said Congressman Stephen F. Lynch. “I commend Governor Patrick for making our veterans and their families a priority. With programs like the SHARP initiative, Massachusetts continues its commitment to our veterans, ensuring they receive the services and support they need.”

“This initiative reflects Massachusetts’ unparalleled commitment to supporting veterans,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby. “The peer-to-peer approach has been extremely effective in other veterans’ initiatives, and this new partnership will help support veterans transitioning back into civilian life. We appreciate the strong support and generous funding that the VA has provided to Massachusetts to support this important work.”

“Massachusetts leads the nation in providing benefits and services to our veterans and their families,” said Secretary Nee. “By coordinating the resources of federal, state, local and not-for-profit entities working with veterans, we have been able to serve more people, establish better outcomes and maximize public dollars to their fullest potential. Fully utilizing all existing resources as well as employing new methods, such as peer-to-peer outreach and Housing First initiatives, will help us dramatically reduce the number of homeless veterans in Massachusetts in the year ahead.”

“We are extremely grateful for our partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services and so many other expert community and federal organizations,” said Craig Coldwell, MD, Director of Mental Health Services at the VA New England Healthcare System. “Ending and preventing homelessness among Veterans requires full collaboration. Together we are dramatically advancing our systems of social support and health care to deserving veterans and their families.”

“The progress in Massachusetts exemplifies how increased investments combined with a smarter, collaborative, and more targeted approach is the critical path to ending homelessness,” said Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. “The significant progress made is attributable to the tremendous partnership between the state of Massachusetts, the VA, HUD and key stakeholders. This type of partnership is exactly what President Obama envisioned upon receiving Opening Doors.”

“The New England Center for Homeless Veterans is honored to host today’s kickoff and be part of the SHARP Team,” said Andrew McCawley, President and Chief Executive Officer of the New England Center for Homeless Veterans. “The leadership of Massachusetts’ Department of Veterans Services in conjunction with Federal agencies has made this a reality. The Program demonstrates how collaboration and innovative support services can meet the needs of Veterans.”

Ending homelessness, particularly among veterans, is a top priority of the Patrick-Murray Administration. Governor Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray have instituted a number of policy changes, new collaborations and strategies to accomplish this mission. DVS funds more than 30 shelter and transitional housing non-profit organizations, providing housing services to eligible veterans ranging from Emergency Homeless Shelters, group residences, to Single Room Occupancy quarters. In addition, the Massachusetts Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness is leading a five-year strategic plan to end homelessness in the Commonwealth by 2013. Chaired by Lieutenant Governor Murray, the Council established a veterans’ subcommittee designed to address the specific needs of homeless veterans in Massachusetts.

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