VA Secretary: "We will end homelessness among veterans"
Published: August 26, 2009
In a speech before the American Legion's annual convention on Tuesday, VA Secertary Eric Shinseki vowed to end homelessness among veterans in the next five years, a tremendous goal he acknowledged will take dozens of new initiatives and major upgrades to existing assistance programs.
"But both the president and I are committed to ending homelessness among veterans," he told the crowd. "We'll take those 131,000 off the streets in the next five years.No one who has served this nation should find themselves living without care or without hope"
According to VA estimates, more than 131,000 veterans are homeless on any given night; That represents nearly 25 percent of the total homeless population in the country. Nearly 260,000 veterans face homelessness over the course of a year, with many moving back and forth between a place to stay and life on the streets.
In June Shinseki chaired the Obama administration's first major forum on homelessness, and both the secretary and the president emphasized finding more outreach programs to help veterans in that challenge.
That month the VA also announced a $75 million program with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to launch the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, which included 10,000 rental assistance vouchers for vets in all 50 states to help get them off the street.
On Tuesday Shinseki said the VA already has 500 private partners -- groups like Catholic Charities and Swords to Plowshares -- working with officials to find housing for veterans, and hopes to add many more in coming months.
But the secretary also said that officials need to "attack the entire downward spiral that ends in homelessness" if they hope to solve the problem. That means better job placement programs, making sure low-income veterans understand their new GI Bill benefits, and better treatment of substance abuse and depression among at-risk groups.
Shinseki said the department is headed in the right direction -- over the last decade, the number of homeless veterans dropped by nearly 60,000 people -- but he's under no illusions that the challenge ahead will be easy.
"I know what a tall order that is," he told the crowd. "But if we dont put a big target out there, we won't reach our goals."
[PHOTO: White House]