Officials warn that the number of homeless may soon skyrocket as budget cuts negatively impact federal agencies’ ability to work to end homelessness.
Despite efforts to eradicate homelessness in the U.S. by 2015, there are still 57,849 homeless veterans nationwide, according to a report released last month from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Last week federal officials warned that the number may soon skyrocket, as budget cuts negatively impact federal agencies’ ability to work to end homelessness.
When HUD released its report at the end of November, the agency also noted that its budget for homelessness-assistance programs would be cut by 5 percent in the next year due to flat funding from Congress, as well as the automatic sequestration cuts that began last spring.
Based on data collected one night in January, the number of homeless veterans in the U.S. has decreased by 24 percent since last year, 16 percent since 2010, as the Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies have implemented programs to combat and end chronic and veterans’ homelessness as part of the federal Opening Doors campaign. But all of that hard work could soon be undone by budget cuts.
Eric Shinseki is the secretary of the VA. He said that the recent deductions in the number of homeless veterans is significant because they came during a difficult economic time, which is historically when homelessness increases.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan released a statement saying that now is not the time to retreat from doing what is working, and added that the budget shouldn’t be cut on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society.
“If we’re going to end homelessness as we know it, we need a continued bipartisan commitment from Congress to break the cycle trapping our most vulnerable citizens between living in a shelter or a life on the streets,” Donovan said, urging lawmakers to maintain their support for “proven strategies that are making a real difference.”
Although the cuts won’t affect the VA’s overall operating budget, officials have expressed concern that the cuts will have on veterans, especially since as Dennis Culhane, a social policy professor at the University of Pennsylvania pointed out, “We have returning soldiers from Iraq, more than 500,000 coming out of prison every year, and young people unable to get into the labor market. All these things threaten our progress.”
Vince Kane, director of the VA National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, said his agency worked closely with HUD and the community programs it supported across the country, adding that the budget cuts “will have a dramatic impact on us.”
“If programs get cut by HUD and others, that impacts our ability to care for the entire family,” Kane said.
Currently the VA donates a portion of its budget to help fund those nonprofit programs that help low-income veteran families, but these programs, such as Supportive Service for Veteran Families, also largely rely on donations from HUD as well.
According to HUD, almost 16,000 beds used by programs to help keep veterans off the streets in 2012 were at least partially funded by HUD grants.
Kane said that the VA and HUD also have a joint program that works to place veterans and their families in permanent housing and provides them with clinical and supportive services, but these programs are now at risk.
“If that delicate balance is upset by funding changes, it impacts how quickly and how many veterans we can serve,” he said.
Kane added that the 24-percent decrease in homelessness among veterans was largely a direct result of the VA’s philosophy that the key to keeping a vet off the street was to first find them a place to live, and then find them a job and get them health care.
Although it’s not known how much of an impact the budget cuts will have on the programs, a special campaign is scheduled to launch next month to target the 25 communities across the nation that have the highest populations of homeless veterans.
The VA, HUD, local and state governments, are reportedly set to work with community stakeholders to connect veterans in the next two years with housing services and other social programs.
Kane said the idea behind the campaign is to create awareness of services available to veterans and said that the VA has known from the get-go that they wouldn’t be able to end homelessness on their own.
“We still have too many veterans on the streets, and the push is to intensify the services even more,” he said.