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April 01, 2012

Veteran homelessness declining, but challenges remain

The number of homeless veterans is decreasing as a result of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) five-year plan to end homelessness among veterans, and the ABA is continuing its efforts to address the problem.    

The five-year plan, unveiled by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in November 2009, includes efforts to shelter those on the streets as well as prevent veterans from becoming homeless. The VA estimates that between 2010 and 2011, there was a 12 percent decline from 76,329 to 67,495 in the number of veterans who on a single night were living in emergency shelters, transitional housing or an unsheltered place.

During a March 14 hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on the plan’s progress, Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) characterized the significant progress as admirable but said that challenges remain.

Two panels comprised of veterans, nonprofit executives, shelters, veterans service organizations and federal government representatives reviewed the relative strengths and vulnerabilities of federal programs designed to help house, employ and meet the health needs of homeless military veterans.

Murray and Sen. John Boozeman (R-Ark.) expressed their deep concern over the lack of safe and secure facilities for veterans, especially women veterans. This problem, highlighted in a recent Government Accountability Office report, was echoed by a hearing panel that included a homeless female veteran who spoke to her frustrations in getting veterans assistance. Among other things, the witness highlighted how a local service provider has helped her transition toward self-sufficiency.

The ABA has numerous policies supporting various approaches to ending homelessness among veterans and is involved in partnerships with the federal government and other organizations. For example, the association has a formal partnership with the VA and the Department of Health and Human Services titled Strategic Initiative #1 under “Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” the Obama administration’s interagency plan.

The ABA also continues to advocate for veterans treatment courts, smart sentencing and diversion, and the elimination of barriers to pro bono assistance for veterans. In addition to pushing for enactment of legislation strengthening the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the association worked closely with the VA as the agency promulgated a directive allowing pro bono programs access to VA medical centers.

The ABA Governmental Affairs Office currently is working with the association’s Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, as well as veterans service and housing organizations, to develop a Capitol Hill briefing for congressional staff on key programs combating homelessness.

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