02/15/2012 09:24 am ET

Getting a Handle on Veteran Homelessness

By Brandon Cooper
Street Sense

Lewis Russell, 55, of Hyattsville, Md., has been unemployed for more than a year and a half.

He came to the 16th annual Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down on Jan. 21 to visit his brother, who stays at the Washington D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and hopefully land a job.

He is one of many veterans in the D.C. area considered at risk of becoming homeless by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

"I'm not [homeless] yet," Russell said. "Put it like this though -- if it wasn’t for my wife, I'd be that way."

As it looks to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the VA is shifting its focus from rescuing the homeless to preventing at-risk veterans like Russell from being on the streets in the first place.

"Our prevention efforts need to supplant our rescue efforts for us to get a handle on [homelessness]," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who stopped in to visit the annual event, which has traditionally emphasized outreach and service to vets who are already homeless.

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