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From Refresh to Overhaul: Bringing Needed Functionality to Website for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness

“This program is a significant resource for helping Veterans experiencing homelessness,” says Abt’s Louise Rothschild as she navigates the new Supportive Services for Veterans’ Families (SSVF) website. She and her team were tasked – under our agreement with Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) – with updating and refreshing the site for the U.S Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), but a look under the hood suggested more could—and should—be done.  “The website is the regular touchpoint for the program’s grantees, and if the site doesn’t work optimally, the mission suffers for it.”

While a website may seem inconsequential, Rothschild emphasizes that Veterans and grantees use SSVF’s website daily to find the information they need to access and provide services. The SSVF Program supports more than 250 grantees who, in turn, support low-income Veterans and their families as they pursue housing stability. The Program’s website serves as a resource for those grantees, notably providing documents that detail program initiatives, compliance, grant management, budgets, and staffing requirements, including how to train employees to observe COVID-19 protocols. Of particular importance, the site offers guidance on program eligibility, and a link to a crisis hotline for Veterans and their families. As websites go, the client, Rothschild, and her team knew this one needed to be more than just another pretty face.

Looking Under the Hood

The initial ask—to update the website—could have been a simple lift; a color palette was in place, and there was plenty of program-owned imagery to enliven the site and make a visual reorganization possible. Upon further inspection, the VA SSVF staff and Abt’s technical assistance team saw the site’s resources were hard to access, and the entire site—including the` crisis hotline information--didn’t work on mobile phones, which is how many Veterans search for information. In discussing the site’s various users with VA SSVF Program Office staff, it became apparent that there was an opportunity—and need—to update the site’s functionality along with the look and feel.

“Improving visuals is important unto itself, because it enables users to better navigate the site,” says Abt designer Jessica Kerbo, “But when you can pair that design with functionality, you can really provide end users with a service. Our Digital Services team did a great job of working with us to marry a more user-friendly visual approach with a corresponding functionality.”

A New, User-Centered Design

As the team took a user-centric approach, they worked through card sorting, mobile testing, and other best-in-class digital practices to upgrade the site for its launch in January 2022. Now, information is presented more clearly and links to relevant resources are readily apparent, making it much easier for grantees to access the information they need. And, in the redesign, the site was optimized for mobile usage, meaning veterans and their families are able to quickly and easily access the crisis hotline and SSVF program information, including service, eligibility, and grantee location information. Finally, Abt integrated Google Analytics so, moving forward, the VA SSVF Program Office staff will be able to see who’s using the site and how, and understand what other refinements can make this tool even more useful.

“The site’s new visual identity really helps create a connection with the user, and that’s important, particularly when this site can be a first step for many Veteran households towards supportive services and housing stability,” says Abt’s Tara Reed. “Making this resource even more functional and even more useful, means further empowering this program to make a real difference in Veterans’ lives.”

Learn more about Abt’s work in homelessness.

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