Sometimes, it’s the “tiny” things that make the biggest differences in our lives.

On this month’s episode of Ending Veteran Homelessness, Chanin Santini of the VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System describes how Veterans’ requests for VA to host “tiny shelters” has evolved into a new care delivery model offering big potential.

Listen to “S1EP4: Tiny Shelters and the Low-Barrier Revolution” on Spreaker.

A viral housing shortage

The onset of COVID-19 demanded urgent adjustments across VA homeless programs. As the pandemic raged, more Veterans were pushed into, and continued to experience, homelessness. Social distancing guidelines and limited shelter capacities played an important role in keeping patrons safe. But it exacerbated unsheltered homelessness (homelessness experienced in places not meant for human habitation such as cars, tents, and sidewalks) across America.

The crisis was especially dire in Los Angeles, where there are more Veterans experiencing homelessness than anywhere else in America.

Just listen

Of all the strategies VA employed to combat the pandemic’s impact, one proved paramount: listening to Veterans.

A group of Veterans experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles heard about a nearby community that used “tiny shelters” (also referred to as “Pallet Shelters”) to temporarily house Veterans. They are typically 8’x8′ structures equipped with air conditioning, heating and electricity. These Veterans were curious, asking, “Why don’t we do that here?”

“We listened to Veterans and said, ‘Let’s see how we can make this happen,’” recalls Santini.

Santini and her team made it happen. In October 2021, the West LA VA Campus got three tiny shelters. That number would continue to grow. Today, the campus boasts 140 of these small structures that are able to house those experiencing unsheltered homelessness. While the tiny shelters are not quite as large as the trending “tiny homes,” they can fit much of what Veterans are looking for in transitional housing.

Fitting Veteran preferences

Perhaps the primary reason for the pallet shelters’ success is their low-barrier, low-demand model. Veterans do not need to complete paperwork, receive referrals, or be sober to live in these shelters. The only requirement to enter is a negative COVID-19 test.

Having VA caseworkers and medical professionals available on-site eliminates many barriers to health care that people experiencing homelessness often face, including transportation, paperwork and expenses. Still, some Veterans may be uncomfortable engaging in care immediately, and that is okay. The tiny shelter delivery model prioritizes Veteran comfort and autonomy, allowing Veterans as much time and space as they want before using VA resources.

Santini describes the empathetic approach of caseworkers, who say, “If you’re ready, I’m ready for you. But if not, I’ll come back to you tomorrow.”

Tiny shelters, big impact

The tiny shelters are also popular among Veterans because of something they do not have: a time limit on Veterans’ stay. In contrast to many traditional temporary housing arrangements, Veterans are welcome to live in their tiny shelter for an indefinite length of time.

“Not giving a time limit takes the pressure off Veterans, especially those who have been chronically homeless, or struggle with mental illness or substance use,” explains Santini. “Not offering this very rigid model is allowing the Veterans to say, ‘This is who I am and this is what I want.’”

As caseworkers help Veterans move on from the tiny shelters and into permanent housing, their space is not vacant long. The demand for the shelters has grown immensely in the past few years, inspiring VA to potentially expand the delivery model to other cities.

“We’re learning a lot as we’re growing,” Santini says. “A lot of Veterans see that and say, ‘Oh wait, this is a cool program I could be a part of.’”

VA encourages all Veterans to learn about and be a part of all the programs we have to offer. No matter what a Veteran is going through, we promise to find solutions that suit every Veteran’s “pallet.”

Learn about VA programs

By Shawn Liu

Director of Communications for the VA Homeless Programs Office

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Published on Aug. 30, 2022

Estimated reading time is 3.8 min.

Views to date: 2,274

4 Comments

  1. Norma Scott September 1, 2022 at 10:27 am

    I’m a disabled female homeless veteran that’s in desperate need of a safe military like community housing(1BR Apt)being homeless for over 5 years and not getting the help I need is very stressful, I’m severely depressed because of the situation, I’m desperately seeking Help, please contact me, ,,,thanking so much in advance

  2. JIm August 31, 2022 at 11:20 pm

    That is a great solution for starters. What about doing this at other VA Medical Centers/Clinics, or is this just for show? There are a number of Veterans living in their cars/trailers/RVs, the only home some of us will ever own, that need a safe place to park without fear of being towed. Look at all the empty parking places at some of these VA Hospitals and Clinics, especially at night. VA Security will have you cited and towed if you don’t have a medical appointment there. Getting a HUD-VASH voucher is as hard as winning the lottery, get used to living in a parking lot and getting harassed.

  3. Roy Hubbard August 31, 2022 at 6:35 pm

    Homelessness is not caused by absence of homes or places to live.

    • Judy Sisti September 4, 2022 at 6:58 pm

      Does a survivor of a veteran who is going to be homeless shortly qualify for any help finding a home?

Comments are closed.

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