Letter to the Editor: Strides made to eliminate homelessness among Veterans - Bay Pines VA Healthcare System
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Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

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Letter to the Editor: Strides made to eliminate homelessness among Veterans

May 31, 2016

Dear Editor:
In response to the article titled, Homeless Counts show drops in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, published on May 24, 2016 in the Tampa Bay Times, I write to acknowledge the community’s work and significant strides made to eliminate homelessness – more specifically the issue of Veteran homelessness. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a major role in this effort.

Across the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, we continue to make VA's goal to end Veteran homelessness a priority within the communities we serve through innovative agency and interdepartmental partnership programs as well as Veteran outreach. In 2015, we served more than 4,000 homeless or at risk for homeless Veterans.

We have several major programs dedicated to ending homelessness among Veterans to include the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – VA Supportive Housing (VASH) program; Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) program, Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program, Safe Haven, Housing First, and Supportive Services for Veterans and Families (SSVF). With the support of these programs, 1,469 homeless Veterans had a place to call home in 2015.

Our largest program is HUD-VASH – a joint effort between HUD and VA to move Veterans and their families out of homelessness and into permanent housing. As part of this program, HUD provides housing vouchers that allow Veterans to rent privately-owned housing, and VA offers eligible homeless Veterans clinical and supportive services. This case management is one of the keys to Veterans’ success in housing. There are currently 745 vouchers in Pinellas County, and 692 Veterans have a signed lease.

HUD-VASH operates using the Housing First model. The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System has employed the Housing First approach since 2011 after receiving approval and funding as one of the first VA sites to pilot the model. The Housing First model does not try to determine who is "housing ready" or demand treatment prior to housing. Instead, medical treatment and other support services are wrapped around Veterans as they obtain and maintain permanent housing through the program. As a result of the success of Housing First pilot programs, the model was adopted across VA.

The Bay Pines VAHCS is proud of its work to end Veteran homelessness and the community partnerships that have resulted from these efforts. We realize that without the help of the Tampa Bay community we would not be seeing the current decline noted in the most recent homeless point-in-time count where the number of Veterans dropped from 589 in 2015 to 380 in 2016. We are pleased to continue the work we are doing in creating a community where every Veteran has a safe place to lay their head at night and a place to call home.

Suzanne M. Klinker Director,
Bay Pines VA Healthcare System

About the Author
Suzanne M. Klinker was appointed as the Director of the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in May 2012. With dedication to the organization’s I CARE values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect, and excellence, she oversees health care delivery for the entire organization which includes one large medical center, eight outpatient clinics and 4,100 employees. In 2015, the healthcare system treated more than 108,000 Veterans and completed 1.4 million appointments.