At The American Legion's 2009 national convention in Louisville, then newly appointed Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki vowed that he and the Obama administration would end homelessness among military veterans in five years – by the end of 2015.
Formal rollout of the campaign was announced about two months after the Legion convention. Components of the plan included making supportive services available to low income veterans and their families, along with homelessness prevention measures, including the easing of access to employment and higher education as well as addressing health concerns with an emphasis on mitigating substance abuse. Also key to that early effort was the encouragement of community-based transition assistance utilizing temporary housing and rehabilitation programs.
Today, more than halfway through the five year campaign, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its partner government agencies, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), have turned their attention to giving vulnerable veterans access to affordable, permanent housing when appropriate, rather than temporary quarters. But housing, whether temporary or permanent and maintained by community, private or government entities, is costly to acquire and maintain.
To help meet that challenge, Secretary Shinseki recently announced that current providers of housing for homeless veterans can apply for rehabilitation funds in the form of grants to improve facilities physically, as well as enhance the housing's safety, security and useful life. VA said about $22 million has been set aside for this purpose. Each rehabilitation grant award cannot exceed $250,000 and cannot represent more than 65 percent of the total cost of the rehab project.
Also according to VA, approximately $2 million in funds are being made available to current providers to help acquire vans for the transportation of veterans to medical appointments, job interviews and the like, as well as facilitate outreach activities. As in the housing rehabilitation program, VA's grant will not exceed 65 percent of the total cost of each van, and is limited to a maximum of $35,000.
Mark Walker, the Legion's deputy economic director, reacted favorably to news of the new VA effort. "We applaud the VA for providing these additional grants," he said. "They can materially assist the agency in its five-year plan to eliminate veteran homelessness.
"The elimination of veteran homelessness is a worthy and reachable endeavor. (But) in order for that to happen, VA must to listen to their private sector partners and other stakeholders to learn of their challenges and ensure that funding and other necessary resources are available for homeless veterans and their families. The provision of these new grants is a welcome indication that VA is listening and is sensitive to its partners' needs."