Homelessness Grants Target Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 26, 2011 The Department of Veterans Affairs today announced nearly $60 million 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 veterans determined to be homeless, 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.
Volunteers of America of Los Angeles, which works to end homelessness there, is among the recipients of the initial SSVF grants.
Of about 70,000 homeless people living on the streets of Los Angeles County, VOA officials estimate that more than 20 percent are veterans.
A retired Navy lieutenant, Jim Howat, who serves as the organization’s director of program development, admitted to having a particular “soft spot” for homeless veterans.
Howat expressed concern that L.A. is seeing more veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan slip into homelessness. Many are reservists and National Guard members who have difficulty readjusting to civilian life after deployments. Readjustment problems often become financial problems, which can lead to homelessness and family problems, he said.
To prevent this cycle, Volunteers of America offers programs to help homeless people get into permanent housing, as well as programs to help them avoid slipping back into homelessness.
“We don’t just do a Band-Aid approach,” Howat said. “Once we fix these problems, we work with families to provide preventive support so they are able to stay in that housing.”
The VA grant will go a long way in supporting housing initiatives as well as support programs for veterans and their families, Howat said. “We know we can put the money to work to make a difference,” he said.