Donovan: Numbers for homeless vets not improving fast enough

Despite a continued decline in the numbers of homeless veterans and new funding to house those still on the streets, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said Wednesday the numbers are not yet decreasing fast enough to meet the Obama administration’s goal of eliminating the problem by the end of 2015.

During an appearance Wednesday morning at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans annual conference in Washington, Donovan and Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki, announced that HUD will provide $60 million for 9,000 new vouchers providing permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless veterans.


HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan (right) interviews Willy Bowler in his makeshift shelter during the annual point-in-time count of the homeless, part of a nationwide survey in January. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

About 60,000 veterans remain homeless, according to the latest survey data available from a count made in January 2012, a 17.2 percent decrease since January 2009.

Donovan noted that about 1,000 days remain to meet Shinseki’s goal of eliminating chronic veterans homelessness by the end of 2015, which was announced by the VA secretary at the group’s conference in 2009.

“To do it by 2015 is going to be a bumpy road,” Donovan told the audience. “We’re going to have to be more creative than ever before.”

“In this final push, we need all hands pulling on the rope,” Shinseki told the crowd, which included hundreds of workers, in the field of combating homelessness, from around the country.

Donovan told reporters after his appearance that  preliminary data from the survey done in January 2013 shows “continued progress similar to the last few years. But that’s not enough to get us to that goal, so we have to figure out how to get there.”

Since 2008, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH) has issued more than 48,000 vouchers to public housing authorities around the country. They are now being used to house more than 42,000 previously homeless veterans.

But last year, about a dozen local authorities declined to take the vouchers because of government budget cuts that have left them unable to afford the administrative costs attached to the program.

Donovan said the trend is a serious concern and could hamper efforts to put the new vouchers in the hands of veterans in some communities.

“We’ll have to see in coming weeks whether other [public housing authorities] turn them down,” he said. If so, he added, HUD will reallocate the vouchers to other communities. “We won’t let them go unused,” he said.

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