On Monday, the Obama Administration announced a 7.2 percent decline in homelessness among veterans (from 2011 to 2012). Can the administration meet its goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015? Yes. But they’ll need to significantly boost their efforts. Here are five things the administration can do to achieve their goal:
- Launch an initiative that pushes resources to the “big 10”: Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver. These cities have the largest numbers of homeless veterans (partly because they have large numbers of homeless people). Homeless veterans in the big 10 make up 30 percent of the total number of homeless veterans.
- Use the demobilization process as an opportunity to screen returning service members to see if they lack (or may have trouble securing) stable housing. If needed, provide homelessness prevention assistance from Support Services for Veteran Families (SSVF).
- Continue to fund the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which provides veterans with housing vouchers, plus intensive services. Target these vouchers to chronically homeless veterans with serious mental illness, as they need supportive housing the most. Also, make it easier for housing developers to use HUD-VASH as a project-based subsidy to develop housing for veterans.
- Design a housing voucher program that links housing subsidies with employment reintegration programs, which help veterans find jobs outside the military. Target these vouchers to unemployed veterans with families, particularly those who are having trouble transferring their military skills to civilian jobs. An allocation of 100,000 vouchers would be a good start. This would be a new program, so it will take support and funding from Congress to get it started.
- Continue efforts at the Department of Veterans Affairs to cut the backlog for disability benefits.
Ending homelessness among veterans is possible. Doing so would be a huge win for the Obama administration, but they must increase their efforts, investing strategically in housing assistance and supportive services. More important, it would be a victory for the nation to ensure that those who have made huge sacrifices on our behalf have a safe and stable home.