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Veteran homeless drops 7 percent, VA says

The number of homeless veterans in the United States counted on a single night this year declined 7.2 percent from the previous year, a reduction significantly higher than that seen in the general population, according to figures released Monday.

Overall, the number of homeless people in the country declined only slightly, to 633,782 counted on a single night in January, about 0.4 percent lower than the previous year. The figures included a 1.4 percent increase in homeless people who are part of households that have at least one adult and one child.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said the point-in-time numbers are nonetheless relatively positive, given the state of the economy when the survey was conducted in January.

“We continue to see a stable level of homelessness across our country at a time of great stress for those at risk of losing their housing,” Donovan said during a conference call with reporters Monday.

The decline in veterans’ homelessness, from 67,495 in January 2011 to 62,619 in January 2012, followed a 12 percent reduction between 2010 and 2011. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said the 17.2 percent decline since January 2009 keeps the Obama administration on track to meet its promise to end veterans’ homelessness by 2015.

“We are building momentum,” Shinseki said during Monday’s conference call.

The decrease in the homeless veterans population is largely attributable to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program that provides permanent housing to homeless veterans.

More than 37,000 veterans have been housed using HUD Section 8 housing vouchers, which are coupled with support from case managers and access to VA health care.

“It’s VASH that’s been having an impact so far,” said Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor who serves as director of Research for the VA’s National Center on Homelessness among Veterans.

Meanwhile, the VA is tripling the amount of grant money available to Supportive Services for Veterans Families. The program, which began in 2011 with $60 million in homeless prevention grants to organizations around the country and another $100 million in 2012, is being expanded to $300 million.

The grants are aimed at “stopping the downward slide” of veterans and their families who face eviction or are temporarily without housing, Shineski said. The money can be used for rapid re-housing of veterans and their families who have lost homes, or to address problems with issues such as child care and rent.

The new funding is expected to serve 70,000 veterans and family members at risk of homelessness, according to the VA.

Much of the funding will be targeted at veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, Culhane said. “It’s going to make a difference,” he said.

Shinseki said that the VA is on track to reach “functional zero” in 2015, a goal that would mean getting all chronically homeless veterans off the street. But short-term homelessness among veterans will still exist, he said.

“The prevention phase will go on for a very long time,” he said.

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