Editor’s note: This article by Patricia Kime originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says it had placed 38,847 veterans in permanent housing by the end of October, exceeding its goal to house 38,000 homeless veterans this year with two months left on the calendar.
VA officials announced Wednesday they also are on track to exceed their goal for keeping those newly housed veterans in their homes, with 96.2% of the newly sheltered staying housed. Its goal for the year had been to ensure that no more than 5% returned to the streets.
"More than 38,000 veterans now have the safe, stable homes that they deserve -- and there's nothing more important than that," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. "While we met our goals for 2023, we're not stopping here. We're going to keep pushing -- through the end of this calendar year and beyond -- until every veteran has a safe, stable place to call home in this country they fought to defend."
The department said it also was able to ensure that, of the roughly 1,450 veterans who returned to homelessness, more than 1,300 were back in housing or on the way to getting housed as of Tuesday.
Reducing the number of veterans who return to homelessness is important, said Monica Díaz, executive director of the VA Homeless Programs Office, because it ensures that they can get assistance and services they may need to stay off the streets, such as health care, disability compensation and other benefits.
Diaz could not say how many of the newly housed veterans also were new to receiving VA services as a result of the department’s homeless outreach, but she said the department has an advantage over other programs focused on preventing homelessness because it can simultaneously provide services the veteran might need.
"We definitely believe in 'Housing First,'” said Diaz, referring to an approach that prioritizes getting the homeless into permanent housing before providing other services. "The key for us to be successful within that principle is the right wraparound services provided to that veteran."
Since the VA is a health care organization, it can also provide mental health services for those veterans, she said.
The 2023 goal of 38,000 was the same as it was in 2022, when the VA housed 40,041 people.
But last year, 6% of those veterans returned to homelessness. As a result, the VA sought to guarantee that at least 95% of this year's newly housed veterans would remain in a home.
The department said it has also made progress fighting veteran homelessness in the Los Angeles area, which is home to more unhoused veterans than any city in the U.S. Officials said they had provided housing for 1,464 LA veterans, 36 veterans shy of its goal this year.
The VA also made significant progress in northern California, where it provided housing for 941 veterans; Houston, with 820 veterans housed; Puget Sound in Washington state, providing shelter for 789 veterans; and Phoenix, housing 763.
An estimated 33,136 veterans live on the streets or in homeless shelters on any given night, according to the annual "Point-In-Time," or PIT, survey conducted in January 2022.
But the number is not considered a complete accounting of the nation's homeless population, because it is an estimate based on a count conducted by volunteers on one day and does not include those living in hotels or staying with family and friends.
Diaz said that although the department has exceeded its housing goals for the past two years – above the Point In Time count – the need remains for the VA to try to eliminate veteran homelessness.
"The more the veteran engages in our system, I find this a success. If the veterans are engaging in our system, they know where to go. They know where to find this help. I don't think the need has changed -- that need continues to be prevalent, especially with the [housing] market situation," Diaz said during a roundtable with reporters Tuesday.
The Biden administration has made reducing homelessness a top priority, providing funding and grants to communities and organizations to get people, including veterans, off the streets and into safe homes.
The number of veterans experiencing homelessness dropped by 11% between 2020 and 2022.
The VA has a National Call Center for Homeless Veterans facing eviction or struggling with homelessness at 877-424-3838.
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