VA Takes Steps to End Veteran Homelessness

by U.S. Medicine

December 7, 2011

WASHINGTON — When he took office, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki declared he would do his best to eradicate homelessness in the veteran population. He also noted that one of the biggest challenges is successfully reaching out and locating veterans who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness.

Making The Call

Homeless veterans salute the U.S. flag (not shown). Photo from website of
North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System..

To help VA achieve that outreach, the agency has launched a campaign designed to get veterans into VA facilities for assistance. The nationwide initiative, “Make The Call,” launched last month to help spread the message that VA has programs aimed at helping homeless veterans and their families.

VA facilities nationwide held stakeholders’ forums and job fairs, inviting veterans and their families to come in and receive medical and mental-health treatment, as well as information about training and employment support. VA also works with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to find permanent housing for homeless veterans.

VA actively encourages friends, family and people in the community to call their toll-free number, 877-4AID-VET, which is staffed by professionals trained to help homeless and at-risk veterans.

“Working with our partners in state and local government, the non-profit and private sectors, we can restore our homeless veterans to the lives and dignity they’ve earned,” Shinseki said when the initiative launched.

VA expects to spend $3.4 billion this year providing healthcare to homeless veterans and $800 million in specialized homeless programs. According to the most recent statistics, 75,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and about 135,000 spend one night a year in a homeless shelter. According to some veterans’ service organizations, this number could be much higher. 

Food and Shelter

va dc homeless forum1.jpgIn recent years, VA has begun transitioning from focusing on short-term solutions to veteran homelessness to finding ways to provide permanent housing and helping veterans who are on the verge of losing a place to live.

VA recently announced that it plans 3,000 units of permanent and transitional housing for homeless veterans at 25 locations nationwide. Also, agreements are pending on an additional 1,000 units.

The agreements are part of VA’s Building Utilization Review and Repurposing (BURR) initiative — a strategic repurposing of VA land and buildings to support the goal of ending veteran homelessness. VA is using its enhanced-use lease authority to permit third-party providers to finance, develop and maintain these facilities for veterans and their families on existing VA sites.

That they are adjacent to VA facilities means veterans can take advantage of the programs offered there, including healthcare and job training. The largest development proposal is at Fort Howard, MD, and includes 1,437 housing units for homeless veterans.

VA also provides free meals and spending money to some homeless veterans. The Veteran Canteen Service, which runs the cafeterias and retail stores at 170 VA medical centers, gives a free meal to homeless veterans  attending their first VA healthcare appointment and a $20 retail-store coupon to new participants in VA’s Supportive Housing Program.

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