Ending Veteran Homelessness

COMMENTARY
Ending Veteran Homelessness
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via AP
Ending Veteran Homelessness
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via AP
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It is a national disgrace that any man or woman who once wore our nation’s uniform should ever live in a shelter or on the streets.  Although only a tiny percentage of our nation’s more than 20 million veterans are homeless, the two federal agencies we lead are working to completely eradicate homelessness among our veterans—and our efforts are working.

One night each year, tens of thousands of volunteers around our country count individuals and families living in our shelter system and other places where no one should be living.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development then publishes a national estimate on the scope of homelessness on a given night in America. 

Since 2010, the combined work of the HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs has cut veteran homelessness nearly in half!  This includes a more than 5 percent decrease between January 2017 and January 2018, according to HUD’s most recent national estimate of homelessness on a given night in America.

But HUD and VA didn’t do this alone.  Prioritizing ending homelessness at the national level spawned a movement at the state and local level.  And today, three entire states (Virginia, Delaware and Connecticut) and 64 local communities have effectively ended veteran homelessness, building effective and lasting systems that work together to ensure veteran homelessness is rare, brief, and one-time.

Veteran homelessness is on the decline in large part because of a joint program administered by our two agencies.  The HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program combines permanent HUD rental assistance with case management and clinical services provided by the VA.  Last year alone, more than 4,000 veterans—many chronically homeless—found permanent housing and critically needed support services through this program.  Another 50,000 veterans found permanent housing and supportive services through the VA’s programs for homeless and at-risk veterans.

But just because the number of homeless veterans continues to decline does not mean that our work is complete.  We must continue to be vigilant until we eliminate veteran homelessness in every community across America.

We need all of our veterans to flourish.  Their contributions, their skills, and their love of country are vital to our national character, to our spirit, and to the very soul of democracy itself.  Their sacrifices lay the foundation of our liberty.   Our liberty is the rock on which our strong economy rests.  And our strong economy provides opportunities that all Americans enjoy.

Once a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, or Coast Guardsman completes his or her tour of duty, the federal government must successfully transition them to civilian life.  If that transition breaks down, we must be there to help.  We recognize the complexities of the issues facing a small number of our veterans—unemployment, mental illness, opioid abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress, or injury.  For veterans experiencing homelessness, stable housing is the first step to overcoming these other problems.

Over this past year, the Trump administration has fought to ensure that we do right by our veterans.  It’s not enough that we keep them in our hearts; we must work to keep them off our streets.  In the past, they answered our call to serve.  Now, it’s our duty to serve them.

Robert Wilkie is secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.



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