The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced that veteran homelessness declined by 12 percent from January 2010 to January 2011. This is remarkable, given the economic situation and large numbers of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The issue of veteran homelessness can feel like an overwhelming, unsolvable problem. Yet, we actually know what it would take to help homeless veterans end their homelessness.
We know that homeless veterans can succeed when they have housing they can afford and support and services that will help them keep that housing – such as job training, mental-health treatment, substance-abuse treatment and health care.
The reduction in veteran homelessness shows that when we have the collective political will to invest in proven solutions, homeless veterans are able to obtain housing, keep that housing and again become contributing members of their community.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs released a comprehensive plan to end homelessness among veterans by marshalling the resources of government, business and the private sector. The plan focused on linking homeless veterans and those veterans most at risk of homelessness to education, jobs, health care and housing. The plan is based on the understanding that the primary need of homeless veterans is housing, but that they also need support and services to keep their housing.
The VA has made remarkable strides in implementing its plan, in large part through the Veterans Supportive Housing Program, also known as the VASH program. The VASH program, which is collaboration between HUD and the VA, serves homeless veterans who have a disability. HUD provides the housing, while the VA provides dedicated social services and high-quality VA health care.
Since 2009, the VA and HUD have successfully housed 33,597 veterans through the VASH program. In New Mexico, 150 homeless veterans have obtained housing through the VASH program, which operates in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Gallup. The New Mexico VA is also in the process of housing another 55 homeless veterans through the VASH program.
Knowing that more than 33,000 homeless veterans now have a safe place to call home should give us a reason to be optimistic and hopeful. Still, we cannot be complacent. There remain at least 67,000 homeless veterans on any given night in this country.
The federal government alone cannot end veteran homelessness. If we want to end homelessness among veterans in New Mexico, we need a strategic commitment from the state, local governments, private funders, businesses and the faith-based community to continue investing in proven solutions to veteran homelessness.
New Mexico Veterans Helping Homeless Veterans is one private-sector organization that raises funds to help homeless veterans. This group then works with the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness to distribute these funds to nonprofits that provide services, shelter and housing to homeless veterans.
With these types of public and private strategic efforts – at both federal and local levels – we can help our homeless veterans leave the streets permanently and rebuild their lives.