WASHINGTON -- Homelessness among the nation's veterans declined by about 12 percent during a one-year period ending January 2011, the Obama administration says.
Officials said the drop is a sign of progress and that the administration is on track for reaching President Barack Obama's goal of eliminating homelessness among veterans by 2015.
In all, there are nearly 67,500 homeless veterans, according to a survey that thousands of communities around the country help to administer each January. More than 76,000 homeless vets were counted in the prior year's survey.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan attributed much of the drop to getting more veterans to participate in a voucher program that greatly subsidizes their housing costs. While Congress has regularly increased funding for the voucher program, thousands of veterans were not taking advantage of the help.
"At the time we came into office in 2009, even though we had about 20,000 of those vouchers available; fewer than 5,000 veterans were actually using them and had successfully moved from the streets or shelters into permanent housing," Donovan said.
Officials said they were particularly encouraged with the results given that the drop occurred during a sluggish economy still shaking off the effects of a deep recession.
Officials also said that there has been more emphasis on reaching out to veterans and families at risk of becoming homeless. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said that $100 million in grants will be made available over the coming year to help prevent veterans from becoming homeless or to quickly return them to stable housing.
"The problems that lead to homelessness begin long before veterans and their families are on the streets," Shinseki said.
Veterans are about 50 percent more likely to be homeless than the average American.