VA triples spending on homelessness problem
By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 11, 2013
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday awarded almost $300 million in grants for homeless and low-income assistance efforts, three times what the agency spent on that program last year.
The move is part of the larger governmentwide effort to end veterans homelessness in the next two years, and comes at a time when most federal programs are tightening their belts in an effort to deal with sharp reductions in funding.
The grants through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program are designed to provide a safety net to low-income veterans struggling with permanent housing. Awards were given to 319 community agencies across all 50 states, in an effort to provide direct and flexible assistance to veterans and their families.
Vincent Kane, acting executive director of the VA’s homeless initiative, said officials pushed for big increases in the SSVF awards because of the success of past grant programs.
In its first year, officials found, 86 percent of grant beneficiaries were still in permanent housing a year later. The latest round of grants is expected to help about 120,000 veterans and their families.
Key in the program has been financial assistance to veterans, preventing them from becoming destitute in the first place,” Kane said.
“If you want to end homelessness, you have to rescue those on the streets,” Kane said. “But you also need to have a strategy to help those who could end up in trouble, before they end up homeless.”
For that reason, Kane said even as homeless veterans numbers decrease, the department expects to keep support for the SSVF grants.
In total, the VA has pledged more than $1 billion in homelessness prevention programs this fiscal year.
According to the most recent national counts, compiled in early 2012, about 62,000 veterans are living on the streets. Figures for 2013 are expected later this summer.
A veteran sorts through donated clothes during the Department of Veterans Affairs' Annual Stand Down Against Homelessness at the Hickory Legion Fairgrounds in Hickory, N.C. in April 2012. Despite assurances that veterans benefits and services will be exempt from the budget cuts, sequestration could mean more homeless veterans, less help for those looking for work, and tens of thousands of furloughed veteran struggling to make ends meet.
BRIAN CHRISTIANSEN/U.S. AIR FORCE