Caring for those who cannot care for themselves is a longstanding tradition in this country, and no one is more deserving of such care than our nation’s Veterans.
VA has been working with homeless Veterans for many years now, and we’ve recently seen some real progress. Six years ago, 195,000 homeless Veterans lived on the streets of America. Today, that estimate is 107,000. But our challenges increase with each successful step because the remaining Veterans are those who are the most difficult to serve.
To meet that challenge, we are expanding existing programs and developing new initiatives. This year, we are investing $500 million dollars in programs designed specifically for homeless Veterans. The budget request before Congress would increase this amount to $799 million in 2011.
Much of our progress has come about through partnerships with community and faith-based, non-profit service providers. These include some of the nation’s largest — Volunteers of America, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army — but also, many excellent, smaller, local groups like “Swords to Plowshares” in San Francisco, and others like it, all across the country.
VA serves on Barbara Poppe’s Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), chaired by Secretary Shaun Donovan and vice-chaired by Secretary Hilda Solis. Their leadership and the collaboration with other council members have been critical to VA’s plan to end Veteran homelessness in the next five years.
By far, the most effective option for housing Veterans has been HUD-VA supportive housing (HUD-VASH) — the nation’s largest permanent housing initiative for Veterans. Last month, HUD announced that another 8,000 vouchers had been allocated to Veterans, bringing the total number of HUD-VASH vouchers to about 28,000. We expect another 1,500 vouchers this summer, so that before the end of next year HUD-VASH vouchers could be helping almost 30,000 homeless Veterans and their families live in permanent housing.
The federal strategic plan we present this morning synchronizes our collective initiatives across government and provides momentum to our individual, departmental efforts. With the strong leadership of President Obama, the support of Congress, the collaboration amongst USICH members, and the assistance of our non-profit partners, we have begun to break the downward spiral that all too often ends in Veteran homelessness.
Ending it — Veteran homelessness — is a critical part of VA’s fulfilling its obligations to Veterans. In this fight against Veteran homelessness, we owe every man and woman who has worn our nation’s military uniforms a level of courage and determination that matches their own. Thank you.