US sees falling number of homeless veterans
Expanded federal aid programs mean fewer vets are on the streets. But a younger generation of those who served needs more help than ever -- and that costs money.
It's been a national shame for decades: Some Americans who served in the military end up homeless, living in parks, under highways and in shelters. The recent economic downturn has only added to the number of veterans unable to find a proper home.
But there have been some signs of improvement. Under a program begun by President George W. Bush and expanded by the Obama administration, the overall number of homeless veterans has declined significantly.
A new report by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development says the number of homeless veterans fell by 7.2% in January from a year earlier -- and by 17.2% since 2009.
Officials say the decline is keeping the government on target to meet its current goal of ending veteran homelessness in 2015.
"While this is encouraging news, we have more work to do and will not be satisfied until no veteran has to sleep on the street," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said in a press statement.
The VA’s Homeless Veterans Initiative committed $800 million in fiscal 2011 to bulk up veteran service programs for job training, job placement and education, housing and health care.
The initiative also works with HUD to provide homeless vets with vouchers for rental assistance, as well as VA community-based outreach clinics. The so-called HUD-VASH program has reportedly helped more than 42,000 veterans find permanent housing.
But veterans, like the rest of the population, are trying to cope with a difficult economic landscape -- where one financial setback can have disastrous consequences.
"Some people are right on the edge," Candice Cummings, social work executive and homeless coordinator for the VA facility in Sioux Falls, S.D., told the Argus Leader. "If a crisis happens, they don't have resources. About 40% have been homeless at least a year or four times in three years."
Cummings is also seeing a new generation of homeless veterans needing help. "It used to be we were looking at males, 45 to 55," she said. "Now we are looking at younger people. It used to be single people. Now it is families more and women. That's a different trend."
In fact, the number of homeless veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts has reportedly more than doubled over the past two years.
"We house more Iraq and Afghanistan and younger veterans than older veterans. It used to be where a homeless vet was typically about 60 years old. Now, they’re 22 years old. And a lot of them are female veterans who have witnessed combat. They are coming back messed up. They are coming back homeless."
Younger veterans are more savvy and don't necessarily like to ask for help, Anne Murphy, with the Salvation Army in Los Angeles, told USA Today. "But there are a lot of them out there."
The VA is requesting an additional $333 million in funding in its 2013 budget request -- a 33% increase over the previous year's budget – for programs to prevent and further reduce veteran homelessness.
And helping homeless veterans become aware of these programs, grants and other services available to them can often be the first step towards finding them permanent homes.
"It’s amazing to me how many of these men and women have no clue to what they’re entitled," Dorothy Walsh, with National Veterans Homeless Support, recently told Florida Today.
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