Mark Walker, deputy director of the Legion's Veterans Employment & Education Division, recently traveled to Chicago to attend the Veterans Access to Housing Summit hosted by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV). The Washington, D.C.-based NCHV and the Legion are united in an effort to end chronic veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 – a goal set by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. Shinseki first announced the initiative at the Legion's 2009 national convention in Louisville.
Walker attended the two-day event on behalf of the Legion to "obtain relevant info on housing challenges and successes, and to continue to cultivate relationships with NCHV and other stakeholders who assist homeless veterans and their families." He too emphasized that Shinseki's self-imposed deadline is approaching relatively quickly.
"To some, the end of 2015 might seem distant," Walker said. "But when you're tackling a problem as large and serious as chronic homelessness, the time we have left – two years – can pass very quickly.
"Still, substantial progress has been and is being made. The number of homeless veterans has declined steadily since 2010, despite an influx of new veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that we have been experiencing some of the most challenging economic conditions since the Great Depression. Given this, a decline in veteran homelessness can be viewed as remarkable."
Government statistics indicate that 57,849 veterans were homeless on a single night in January 2013 with 60 percent of them in shelters or transitional housing. The remaining 40 percent were in unsheltered locations. About 8 percent of the homeless were female veterans. By contrast, more than 75,600 veterans were counted as homeless when Shinseki's five-year campaign was launched.
The Veterans Access to Housing Summit was the third annual gathering of its kind. The organizer, NCHV, was aided by sponsorships from the Home Depot Foundation and Citi Salutes, a veterans' support program of Citigroup.
"It is the enthusiastic and generously offered combined efforts of private enterprise, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and community volunteers that are helping to make this federal government inspired campaign really work," Walker said. "It is a perfect example of how the public and private sectors can work together to make a positive difference."