Which Programs Work Best for Helping Homeless Veterans, and What Hurdles Does a Non-Vet Face in Providing Services?

October 11, 2016 @ 11:02 pm

In an online event held on October 4, 2016, alumna Rachel Waltz described her experience of working with HUD-VASH, a collaborative program between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Administration (VA) that combines HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services to help veterans who are homeless and their families find and sustain permanent housing.

Watch the event here:

Related resources:


Alumna Rachel Waltz (MSW’08) is not a veteran, and she did not take courses in military social work while enrolled in social work school. Nevertheless, she felt qualified to help veterans in need of shelter because in her first job out of CSSW she worked with the Brooklyn-based Empowerment Program (run by Neighbors Together) providing services for the homeless—work for which she was awarded a Brooklyn Woman of Distinction.

At the same time, though, she knew that veterans have their own culture and she needed to immerse herself in that culture in order to earn their trust.

Waltz made these points at the opening of a 10/4/16 online event hosted by Columbia University’s School of Social Work. In response to questions posed by Communications Director Mary-Lea Cox Awanohara, Waltz told of her first impressions upon learning that veterans have twice the risk of becoming homeless as other Americans—a statistic that challenges traditional images of a soldier receiving a hero’s welcome. She also talked in more detail of the hurdles that she as a non-vet faces when working with veterans; and she reported on the progress made in this field since President Obama introduced his initiative on ending veteran homelessness.

Joining Waltz at the online event was Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Swayne, who teaches courses in military social work on CSSW’s online campus and is the director of the cadet counseling center at the United States Air Force Academy. Swayne started his portion of the presentation by defining what a “veteran” is. He went on to emphasize how important it is for a person who is transitioning out of the military to obtain DD Form 214. DD214, as it is commonly known, is a document that contains all the information normally needed to verify military service for benefits, retirement, employment, and membership in veterans’ organizations.

The event culminated with a discussion between Waltz and Swayne, along with many audience members, about (among other topics):

  • how veterans who are homeless differ from the rest of the homeless population;
  • the social work skills that are most useful for working with veterans, particularly if you’re a non-veteran; and
  • the characteristics of a successful program for veterans who are homeless.

Waltz and Lt. Col. Swayne were joined by nearly 100 registrants, all with different relationships to the issue, and a lively discussion ensued.

The event was sponsored by CSSW’s Online Campus. The next deadline for applications is October 15. Get information here.

The Online Campus would like to thank Rachel Waltz, Franklin Swayne, and all the fantastic attendees for such an informative event.

Check out the other events in the CSSW’s Online Event Series: