By Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden, American Forces Press ServiceJune 24, 2010
WASHINGTON (June 23, 2010) -- An independent council of Cabinet members announced a proposal yesterday they said will seek to end veteran homelessness in five years and put the nation on a path to end homelessness in the United States by 2020.
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness released "Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness." The plan is the nation's first comprehensive federal plan to combat homelessness, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a White House news conference.
"The culmination of more than a decade's work in communities across the country, this plan reflects President Obama's belief that no one should experience homelessness -- no one should be without a safe, stable place to call home," Donovan said. "We believe we can and will achieve that."
The council's strategy includes several milestones in which they will measure progress. It calls for ending chronic homelessness - where people cycle in and out of shelters and hospitals -- and homelessness among veterans in five years, Donovan said. Next, they will get every family, youth and child off the streets within 10 years, and then eventually set a path to end homelessness altogether, he said.
The proposal suggests the efforts would focus on integrating support services and applying state and local initiatives at the federal level, according to the council. It serves as a roadmap for joint action to mainstream housing, health, education and human services programs.
Donovan cited the homeless veteran population, underscoring the need for a joint, interagency approach. More Vietnam-era veterans are homeless today than the number of U.S. servicemembers who died in the Vietnam War, he said.
"Our veterans remind us that ending homelessness is bigger than any one agency or level of government," he said. "By strengthening existing interagency partnerships, this plan honors the sacrifice of those who have served their country and assures our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan that they won't be forgotten when they return home."
He added that the HUD-VA partnership already has provided 30,000 units of permanent supportive housing to veterans and their families.
The effort involves other partnerships, such as one between the Health and Human Services and Labor departments that uses housing a platform, Donovan explained. Accessible health care and job training will help to keep those at risk off the streets, he added.
The council is composed of 19 cabinet secretaries and other top officials, including Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. Shinseki announced VA's plans last year to end homelessness among veterans within five years.
With the development of the new strategy, the "downward spiral" for veterans into homelessness has begun to break down, Shinseki said in yesterday's news conference.
More than 640,000 men, women and children - including an estimated 107,000 military veterans - live on the streets. In 2005, an estimated 195,000 veterans were homeless, according to VA.
Shinseki spoke to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans here June 21. And like Donovan, he pointed to the need to address issues such as health and education before veterans even become homeless.
VA's 2010 budget for ending homelessness among veterans is $3.5 million. At least 85 percent will be spent on programs to treat depression, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and suicide prevention, Shinseki said in his June 21 remarks.
"Resources are moving in the right direction," he said. "We have to be smarter about how we use these resources while we have them, and put in place the relationships, the procedures, and the disciplines that get 99 cents of impact out of every dollar we spend. Goodness here is not any one organization's agenda but what best serves our homeless veterans. We must move to excellence in our collaborative efforts."
The next step for the council will be implementation. Over the coming weeks, the council will work with Congress, local legislatures, health care providers and community organizations to put their plan into action, council members said.