The Department of Veterans Affairs announced at the end of July that nearly $60 million has been awarded in grants aimed at preventing homelessness among veterans and their families, with particular focus on veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced the awards, the first to be presented through VA’s new Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. The grants will go to 85 nonprofit organizations in 40 states and the District of Colombia to serve an estimated 22,000 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families.
“This new homeless-prevention program will provide additional comprehensive support to veterans who have served honorably and now find themselves in a downward spiral toward despair and homelessness,” Shinseki said. “This program expands our capacity to act before a veteran becomes homeless and to target the problem of family homelessness.”
Shinseki, a retired four-star general who served as Army chief of staff, came to his VA post in 2009 insisting that no one who has served the United States in uniform should ever end up living on the streets. With backing from President Barack Obama, he committed to ending homelessness among veterans by 2015.
VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated in 2009 that 76,000 veterans were homeless on a single night. Of those, fewer than 10 percent were veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn, said Pete Dougherty, VA’s senior policy advisor on homelessness.
So far this fiscal year, VA has provided health care or housing to 140,000 homeless veterans, veterans at risk of becoming homeless or who were homeless but have returned to permanent housing, Dougherty said. That includes services for 10,476 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
To meet the 2015 deadline for eliminating veteran homelessness, Shinseki championed a plan that provides not just beds but also services such as education, jobs and health care to address the root causes of homelessness.
The SSVF program is an example of that multipronged effort, VA officials explained. VA awards grants to nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives who in turn provide supportive services to very-low-income families living in or transitioning to permanent housing. And to help keep them with a roof over their heads, the grantees also provide outreach and case management services and help participants obtain additional VA and public benefits.