An estimated 131,000 veterans are homeless on any given night in America, according to the latest data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
At first glance, the problem looks like it’s improving. The latest figure is a drop from last year’s estimated number of 154,000. However, the change is largely attributed to a refinement of estimation and data collection methods, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
The update was released this week to coincide with Veterans Day.
Combat veterans who served in current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan represent 4 percent of the homeless veteran populations.
“They teach you to go and train and to fight and do all those things, but they don’t teach you to how to live a normal life when you come back,” said veteran Lila Guy, who served a year in Iraq, beginning in 2005.
A mother of four, Guy testified Tuesday before the Senate Housing, Transportation, and Community Development Subcommittee. She recounted having no place to go after receiving her discharge.
Although there are a number of programs, veterans often do not know where to go, Guy said.
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki recently unveiled a five-year plan to end homelessness among veterans.
“The secretary’s plan includes bold new measures that will both serve those who are seriously impaired and, in a major shift for us, attack the problem with preventative measures like discharge planning for incarcerated veterans re-entering society, supportive services grants for low-income veterans and their families, and a national referral and call center to link veterans to local services,” testified Peter Dougherty, director of homeless veterans programs at the VA.
He added that the first 20,000 units of the Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program are now out in the field. About 11 percent of those units are occupied by female veterans, and 12 percent of the units are occupied by veterans with children.
HUD-VASH provides rental assistance through HUD’s voucher program as well as case management and services through the VA.
In February, HUD awarded $1.4 billion in targeted homeless assistance grants.
The awards included funding for 136 projects that specifically target veterans and more than 1,000 projects that will serve veterans and others, said Mercedes Marquez, assistant secretary for community planning and development at HUD.
While acknowledging that the Obama administration is only10 months old, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wondered why with a wide array of programs there is still such a large number of homeless vets. “What is it that we are not doing right?” he asked.
Dougherty said Congress recently provided a key tool that wasn’t available a few years ago–an opportunity to get veterans into permanent housing with case management services from the VA. He was talking about HUD-VASH.
“It looks like the Congress is poised perhaps to give us another 10,000 units,” he said. “That’s a critically important piece of what needs to occur as we move forward.”