VA’s Shinseki, HUD’s Donovan address vet conference

An Obama administration effort to end veteran homelessness by 2015 requires more urgency, the secretaries of the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development said Wednesday.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan addressed the opening session of the 2012 Annual Conference of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in downtown Washington.

“Our homeless veterans are counting on us to bring a sense of urgency to this fight — and I do mean fight,” Shinseki said. “The hill gets steeper and the air gets thinner the closer you get to the summit. VA will continue to fight just as hard for our budgets as we have in the past. But at this point, more is not better: Better is better.”

The number of homeless veterans found during point-in-time counts dropped 12 percent from 2010 to 2011, a decrease that Donovan attributed to the government’s embrace of the “housing first” strategy. The results allow “us to make the case for more investments in a tough budget environment,” Donovan said.

“For decades, the federal government used to say to somebody living in the streets with substance abuse, for example, ‘Get sober — and then we’ll help you find a place to live,” Donovan said. “That approach had it absolutely backwards.”

More than 30,000 veterans have been housed through the HUD-VASH program, which combines housing vouchers issued by HUD with VA case management and clinical services.

HUD’s 2013 budget includes an additional $75 million for HUD-VASH, an increase of about 15 percent.

“That’s funding we need to fight for,” Donovan said.

A new, comprehensive Homeless Veterans Registry several years in the making will be rolled out this summer and will help researchers study the causes of homelessness and what keeps the homeless on the streets, according to Shinseki.

“With this registry, we’ll be able to clearly validate our needs, see where to apply our resources and then measure whether we did any good,” Shinseki said.

He said that ending veterans’ homelessness will require “both rescue and prevention — rescue those on the streets today and at the same time prevent others who are at risk of homelessness from ending up there tomorrow or the day after.”

Pat Ryan, chairman of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, said there has been “unprecedented national unity” to end veterans’ homelessness. “The progress we have seen from the federal agencies, the Congress, the community partners NCHV represents, and the American people in just the last three years give rise to the expectation that this campaign will succeed,” he said.

More than 500 representatives of government agencies and community-based groups are attending the three-day training conference, titled “Halfway Home: Progress in the Five-Year Plan to End Veteran Homelessness.”

Among the topics will be data showing an increase in homelessness among female veterans.

The Home Depot Foundation is the conference’s sponsor.

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