The number of homeless veterans has decreased by 33 percent since President Obama set a goal in 2009 of eliminating veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, and over the past few months several new increases in aid for homeless and at-risk veterans have been announced to continue the push toward that goal.
In addition to $300 million designated Aug. 11 for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, more than $350 million will be dedicated to eradicating veteran homelessness through the SSVF program and through collaboration between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The SSVF program was created by the VA under the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvement Act of 2008 to award grants to promote housing stability for low-income veterans and their families.
The first of the recent increases was unveiled on Sept. 30, when VA Secretary Robert McDonald announced $207 million in funding for SSVF grants to help an estimated 70,000 homeless or at-risk veterans and their family members. This funding, which supports the SSVF’s fourth year of operation, includes aid for 82 non-profit agencies as well as “surge” funding for 56 communities with high need.
The next day, HUD and the VA detailed a $62 million increase for rental assistance for homeless veterans through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program that will aid an additional 9,000 individuals.
Several weeks later on Oct. 10, the VA also announced a $93 million “surge” for the SSVF program to target 28 specified high-need communities over the next three years.
In a statement publicizing the HUD-VA initiative, HUD Secretary Julian Castro said that it is “unacceptable that after their service and sacrifice” veterans “find themselves living on our streets and in our shelters.” VA Secretary McDonald agreed, stating that the fight is far from over. “As long as there remains a single veteran living on our streets,” he explained, “there is more work to be done.”
The ABA has supported efforts to end homelessness for many years. Policy adopted in 2010 focuses on developing comprehensive, systemic approaches to address the special needs of veterans, including programs that help eradicate homelessness. According to the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, which sponsored the 2010 resolution, the policy “outlines a roadmap of guiding principles for jurisdictions interested in replicating” the model of Veterans Treatment Courts – programs to address the special needs of veterans within the court system.
The ABA commission contributes to efforts to fight homelessness among veterans with its Homeless Veterans Justice Initiative. Created at the request of the VA, the initiative supports Veteran Treatment Courts, pro bono representation, the VA’s Veteran Justice Outreach (VJO) program, and the elimination of legal barriers to veterans’ employment, treatment and due benefits.