NEW ORLEANS, LA (November 19, 2020) – On Veterans Day, our nation paused to honor those who have served in the military. The effort to support veterans carries on year-round though; for many veterans, their sacrifice does not end when they return home. Many struggle with the transition back to civilian life, which can be compounded by physical and mental health issues, substance use disorders, and economic hardship. All these challenges can lead veterans and their families to experience financial insecurity, housing instability, and homelessness.
While veteran homelessness has been steadily declining since 2011, there were still more than 37,000 veterans homeless on any given night in the U.S. according to statistics released prior to the pandemic. Now, with the economic downturn and additional stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, that figure could rise. It is a concern shared by Allison Ulrich, a Civix Senior Grants Manager who has spent her professional career working on issues of affordable housing and homelessness, including seven years as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“Adequate employment continues to be a challenge for many households; continuing economic circumstances and financial uncertainty are placing a lot of stress on people and the systems dedicated to supporting them,” she said. “Veterans are a special group with unique, shared experiences and skills, as well as a host of specific challenges associated with their service and transition to civilian life. With a deep appreciation and understanding of these skills and challenges, our team has dedicated a special focus on services aimed at meeting the needs of veterans and their families.”
Combating veteran housing instability and homelessness will require significant investment, and the $17.2 billion allocated to the Veterans Health Administration under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) is intended to help address the needs of veterans. Programs and services have to be approached strategically and optimized, though, to realize the greatest impact, says Ulrich.
“Systems are not always fully set up to support the success of the programs meant to address emergent and rapidly changing conditions. That’s where our work comes in,” she said.
As former state and local government grant and program administrators, best-in-class workflow developers, and planning experts, the Civix Grants Management team brings experience, lessons learned, and best practices from administering and implementing over $200 billion in federal grants on behalf of communities across the country. With the creation of services focused on veterans, Ulrich hopes to help organizations make the most of the influx of CARES Act funding by improving program process and performance.
The Civix Grants Management team recently kicked off a project with San Mateo County’s Human Services Agency in California to conduct a veterans needs assessment and outreach study, and they are also advising local governments in Louisiana on the design of federally-funded rental assistance programs to support housing needs of communities impacted by the pandemic.
“It became obvious, that with our range of experience in federal grants and our expertise in veterans issues, we needed to help organizations get ahead of a potential rise in homelessness and housing insecurity caused by the coronavirus,” said Angie Traill, a Civix Senior Grants Manager who formerly worked for the VA in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense to review programs and create policies to ease veterans’ transition from active duty to civilian life.
“Imagine serving overseas for years specializing in a very specific task… you return home where those skills used in service may not directly apply to the regular workforce, then what?” said Traill. “It’s a difficult transition even under the best circumstances, and now veterans have to contend with an economic crisis, social distancing, and a host of other hardships associated with the pandemic.”
She says two of the biggest challenges veterans face when re-integrating are how to translate their skills in the job market and where to live.
These obstacles are not specific to veterans, but Traill says a special focus on veterans is important.
“Veterans represent the overall population – they come from all walks of life – but that unique experience of serving and coming back home brings this group together in a way not seen in other sub-populations,” she said. “So, when you’re looking at employment, housing, and mental health issues, for example, you have another layer of empathy and shared experiences that has to be considered.”
Recognizing this need and their grants team’s range of relevant experience, Ulrich and Traill spearheaded the creation of a veterans service offering at Civix. It ranges from program design to training to needs assessment to policy development.