Some have called it a “national disgrace,” the presence of thousands of homeless veterans on American streets and in shelters.
In 2010 President Obama made a strong statement, saying that his administration would end homelessness by 2015.
But how do you do that? The Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs teamed up to find a solution.
Their work has already reduced homelessness by 12% and has made them finalists for the Service to America Medals.
Mark Johnston is the acting assistant secretary of HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development.
“For any Vet to be on the streets is a shame,” said Johnston.
How it started: “The VA and HUD had different counts. We knew if we were going to solve the problem we were going to need a joint approach. So in the course of a year we came up with a plan. At the end of every January, community stakeholders (non-profits, churches, vets groups, city, state and federal officials) would go out into the communities and count the number of homeless persons. That figure would then be added to information already on file at shelters and hospitals,” said Johnston.
Next Steps: “Once we had a solid count as to where these vets were we could better deploy our resources,” said Johnston, “we could effectively use the HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program.
Collaboration: The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program combines Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rental assistance for homeless Veterans with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). VA provides these services for participating Veterans at VA medical centers (VAMCs) and community-based outreach clinics.
Duplication: “Resources are tight so we wanted to make sure we weren’t duplicating anything. We looked at programs that weren’t necessarily targeted at Vets like a Recovery Act program called Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing. The $1.5 billion dollar program provides housing resources. We have to use programs like this to pull out pockets of resources,” said Johnston.
Leadership: “The Supportive Housing program has been around for 15 years, but until the president made that directive to end homelessness by 2015, it wasn’t getting a lot of attention,” said Johnston.
Challenge: “Right now there is a relatively high unemployment, so it’s hard to find jobs. It’s also hard to match resources to where they are and to allocate resources to the cities with the highest need,” said Johnston.
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It brought tears to my eyes and took my breath away when I learned this last year, and again when I read it this time. VA/HUD, thank you for caring for my homeless brother and sister veterans. Good bless you!