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Deborah De Santis

Deborah De Santis

Posted: November 10, 2009 10:20 PM

As our nation pauses to salute those who serve our country, it is important to recognize the incredible work being done to combat homelessness among veterans. To eradicate this scourge, current efforts must be bolstered by additional financial and political investments.

Sadly, veterans of our armed forces are disproportionately more likely to be homeless when compared to the general population. About 26% of all people experiencing homelessness are veterans although only 11% of the U.S. population has served in the military. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported last year that 131,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and that perhaps twice that many suffer homelessness during the course of a year. Nearly half of our homeless veterans face mental illness, sometimes combat-related, and many are struggling with substance use issues and addictions. Just as concerning, veterans just returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are presenting significant rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). As such, it is critically important to prevent additional waves of homelessness among newly discharged service men and women as well as ending homelessness for those who have served our nation in previous conflicts.

In the past three years, the federal government has taken significant steps forward in addressing the long-term housing and service needs of our nation's homeless veterans. More than 20,000 HUD-VASH vouchers have been allocated nationwide since 2008. This resource couples a rental subsidy with intensive supportive services for veterans who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness and their families. An additional 10,000 vouchers are anticipated to be included in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget currently making its way through Congress. Late last year, the Veterans' Mental Health and Other Health Improvements Act was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law. This bill allows the VA to make direct grants to organizations providing support services for veterans living in permanent supportive housing.

Since taking office, President Obama has prioritized addressing the plight of homeless veterans. Recognizing the severity of the situation, the Administration earlier this month unveiled a comprehensive plan to end homelessness among veterans in five years. The new federal strategy, which was announced by US Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, relies on maximizing resources from government, business and the nonprofit sector to combat homelessness.

Congress is weighing in as well. On November 10th, a subcommittee of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing to examine ending veterans' homelessness. S. 1160, the Homes for Heroes Act, which was introduced by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), is currently pending before this committee. The bill would increase the number of HUD-VASH vouchers and provide $200 million annually for the development of permanent supportive housing with wrap-around services for homeless and at-risk veterans and their families. In addition, on October 22nd the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs (VA), held a hearing on S. 1547, the Zero Tolerance for Homeless Veterans Act. This bill, which was introduced by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), would provide $50 million annually to help low-income veterans locate or remain in their housing through the provision of financial assistance that could be utilized for things such as relocation costs, utility and/or security deposits and short term rental subsidies. S. 1547 also includes a rental assistance voucher component which would entail an annual increase of 10,000 HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) vouchers until 2013, for a total of 60,000 in each fiscal year thereafter. The bill also would take steps to improve housing development under the existing Grant and Per Diem Program.

The Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) is committed to ensuring that veterans receive the housing and supportive services they deserve. Our work includes providing project-specific technical assistance and training as well as predevelopment lending and development expertise to organizations serving veterans. In addition, advocating for Congress and the Administration to increase resources for homeless veterans is a top policy priority of the organization.

Under a subcontract with the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), CSH has provided targeted technical assistance around the topic of permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans. We have authored a supportive housing for homeless veterans development guidebook, provided audio-conference calls to their membership, conducted development training and site tours of projects, and presented an institute for the past three years at the NCHV conference. These planning efforts aim to accomplish one thing: Create more supportive housing to end homelessness among veterans.

You can help, too, by contacting your members of Congress and urging them to approve more funding that houses our homeless veterans and provides them with the support services to improve their lives.

Treating our veterans with the respect and dignity they deserve should be a priority for all of us. It is certainly good and proper that we turn the spotlight on them each Veteran's Day and Memorial Day, and share our admiration and thanks. But it would be a far greater service to those who have sacrificed for our country if we ensured that no veteran is homeless on those special occasions as well as the other 363 days of the year.

Learn more about CSH and what we do to help homeless individuals and families, including veterans, at www.csh.org.