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The number of homeless veterans in the United States has decreased by more than 11% since the beginning of 2020, the biggest drop in more than five years, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development report.

The number of homeless veterans in the United States has decreased by more than 11% since the beginning of 2020, the biggest drop in more than five years, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development report. (VA.gov)

WASHINGTON — The number of homeless veterans in the United States has decreased by more than 11% since the beginning of 2020, the biggest drop in more than five years, according to a new federal report.

On a single night in January, 33,136 veterans were experiencing homelessness — a decrease of 4,116 veterans from January 2020, according to the 2022 Point-in-Time Count released Thursday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The count consists of data on homelessness and identifies people living in unsheltered and sheltered settings throughout the United States. The Department of Veterans Affairs said the new findings represent a 55.3% reduction in veteran homelessness since 2010.

“One veteran experiencing homelessness will always be one too many, but the 2022 count shows that we are making real progress in the fight to end veteran homelessness,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a prepared statement. “There is still a long way to go, but under President [Joe] Biden’s leadership, we at VA, HUD and [U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness] will not stop until every veteran has a good, safe, stable home in this country they fought to defend.”

This was also the first full Point-in-Time Count since 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic began. The VA said many communities did not conduct unsheltered counts in order to stop or slow the spread of the virus, which the agency said resulted in incomplete data on veteran homelessness in the U.S. and hinder a comparison between 2020 and 2021 or 2021 and 2022.

However, a HUD spokesperson said during a media roundtable Wednesday that the data shows how many veterans found places to live in 2021. Moreover, the data shows Los Angeles still has the largest number of veterans experiencing homelessness, despite the decrease.

HUD has released the veteran numbers ahead of the full national Point-in-Time Count. The agency officials said they expect to release that data before the end of the year.

In April 2021, McDonough and HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said they aligned their efforts to make the problem a top priority and work toward ending veteran homelessness.

The VA said the billions of dollars in relief aid funded by the American Rescue Plan, a coronavirus relief package signed into law in March 2021, included $481 million to help veterans finds homes by expanding some of the agency’s homeless programs, such as The Supportive Services for Veteran Families. The program provides support and prevention services and rapid housing to veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

In February, the VA announced its goal to place at least 38,000 veterans experiencing homelessness into permanent housing for 2022. Last month, McDonough said the VA has found places to live for 30,914 veterans, 81% ahead of the agency’s goal, as of Sept. 30.

A VA spokesperson said the goal represents nearly the same number of veterans counted in the 2020 Point-in-Time Count, which found 37,252 veterans were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2020. It also marked the first increase in veteran homelessness since 2017.

McDonough said in June that the VA would use 75% of its HUD-VA Supportive Housing vouchers. According to the VA Homeless Programs website, the program pairs HUD's Housing Choice Voucher rental assistance with VA case management and supportive services for homeless veterans.

For fiscal 2022, the VA said it has 102,073 active vouchers in use, which includes 80,157 veterans who have leases.

“All veterans deserve to have what they need to lead healthy, safe and successful lives — that starts with a place to call home,” Fudge said in a prepared statement. “The data released today shows we are closer than ever in ensuring that every veteran in America has a home and challenges us to ensure that every veteran — and every person in America — has a home.”

In September, the VA awarded $137 million in grants to 150 nonprofits through its Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. The grants will allow nonprofits to expand their services for veterans and their families.

Last month, the VA published a notice of funding opportunity for about $11.3 million in legal services grants for veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness through the agency’s Legal Services for Veterans grant program.

The VA also announced it had three new funding opportunities for organizations to combat veteran homelessness. One is through its Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. The other two grants are through the VA’s Grants and Per Diem program, which provides transitional housing services that supply immediate shelter and case management to help veterans keep their homes.

The three grant opportunities offered by the VA will expand services and incentives already provided by the agency including one that encourages landlords to rent residences to veterans. The incentives will become available to organizations that receive the grants nationwide in fiscal 2024.

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Sara Samora is a Marine Corps veteran and the veterans reporter for Stars and Stripes. A native Texan, she previously worked at the Houston Business Journal and the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. She also serves on the boards of Military Veterans in Journalism and the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals.

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