Among the most ambitious initiatives launched by the Department of Veterans affairs in recent years is the commitment to end homelessness among veterans by 2015. The VA has made considerable progress as of late, but the most recent figures put about 62,000 vets still living on the streets. In an effort to reach its goal, the VA recently awarded $300 million in grants to hundreds of community agencies around the country – triple last year's spending, Stars and Stripes reports.
Success so far
The grants are provided as part of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families, and have largely been successful since the initiative began. After the first year of grants were awarded, officials found that about 86 percent of beneficiaries remained in some form of permanent housing. Experts anticipate that approximately 120,000 veterans and their families stand to gain from this most recent batch of grants. One of the biggest focuses of the SSVF is to help equip servicemembers with the tools to avoid becoming homeless in the first place.
"If you want to end homelessness, you have to rescue those on the streets," Vincent Kane, acting executive director of the VA's homeless initiative, told Stars and Stripes. "But you also need to have a strategy to help those who could end up in trouble, before they end up homeless."
The VA is not the only government body playing a role in ending veteran homelessness. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is also involved in the process, and together the two departments operate a program known as Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. Specifically, the initiative draws from the rental assistance offered by HUD and pairs it with the case services offered by the VA. VASH can pay up to 70 percent of a veteran's rent while also helping vets get their lives back on track. Such was the case for Illinois resident James Usher, a former Marine who teamed up with the program several years ago.
"When I got into HUD-VASH in March 2008, it changed my life," Usher, 60, told the Lake Country News-Sun. "I got clean and sober. I adjusted to a clean environment and clean people who were sober."