Ending Veteran Homelessness

Now that the narrative has slowly — slowly — changed from a cuts-only policy perspective to something more nuanced, complex, equitably-minded discussion (thanks, in part, to movements like The New […]

Now that the narrative has slowly — slowly — changed from a cuts-only policy perspective to something more nuanced, complex, equitably-minded discussion (thanks, in part, to movements like The New Bottom Line and Occupy Wall Street), homelessness, as we noted in our previous post, should be high on nation’s agenda.

Homelessness is also particularly widespread among the country’s veteran population. When Veterans Affairs and HUD released the latest update to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report, the number of vets who spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or in transitional housing inched closer to 150,000 — or 11.5 percent of all homeless adults. While we’ve seen cuts to many important housing programs across the board, there could be some good news out of VA’s proposed FY2012 budget related to homeless veterans programs, including $224 million for the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program, $100 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program, and an additional $50 million for HUD-VA Supportive Housing (VASH) case management (not to mention that HUD’s proposed FY2012 budget sets aside $75 million for VASH rental vouchers, bringing the total number of vouchers to about 48,500, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans).

But secretaries Shaun Donovan of HUD and Eric Shinseki of Veteran Affairs, as well as others, “have indicated that the number needs to be closer to 60,000 vouchers”:https://blog.endhomelessness.org/an-update-on-the-va’s-plan-to-end-veterans-homelessness/ to properly address chronic veteran homelessness, in line with goals put forth in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, that outlines four primary goals of ending chronic homelessness in five years; prevent and end homelessness among veterans in five years; prevent and and homelessness for families, youth, and children in 10 years; and to “set a path to end all types of homelessness.”

Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy of the National Alliance to End Homelessness recently lauded the goal to end homelessness on the organization’s blog:

“This is a plan that can succeed. This is a problem that can be solved. If we can find and house 76,000 homeless veterans, we can end veteran homelessness.”

He goes on to write that a big piece of this is done by way of HUD-VASH:

“This is an ideal tool for ending homelessness for those veterans with severe disabilities who are homeless the longest. HUD-VASH, when revived by Congress four years ago, required VA to do some new things, so the early vouchers were slow getting out and not necessarily targeted to those with the most need. The performance of VA, however, has improved substantially, both in efficiently getting new vouchers out the door, and targeting them to chronically homeless veterans.”

It’s amazing to think that not even a year ago, we saw VASH under attack as an early continuing resolution proposal for 2011 advanced by House Republicans eliminated the voucher program altogether. As Rep. Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, wrote on Shelterforce.org last March, the majority’s proposal didn’t “trim or reduce the program — the Republican budget that passed the House would completely eliminate rental vouchers for homeless veterans.”

Fortunately this proposal did not pan out, and as Steve Berg notes, it’s become clear that VA and HUD, after Secretary Shinseki first announced the five-year plan in late 2009, the ability to overcome hurdles to achieve the plan’s goals has been somewhat remarkable:

“VA Headquarters has pulled out the stops to get a plan off the ground.”

Of course, let’s not forget that this Veterans Day, as the country combats the problem of homelessness, there are increasing numbers of veterans rallying with the Occupy movement fighting, in a different way, for their country.

Photo by Keturah Stickann

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