Attendees of The American Legion's Homeless Veterans Roundtable in Washington, D.C., on March 24 listen to experts discuss progress and challenges. (Photo by Lucas Carter)

Experts weigh in on veterans homelessness

The American Legion's Veterans Employment & Education Commission hosted a Homeless Veterans Roundtable on March 24 during the Legion's Washington Conference that featured homeless veterans advocates, policymakers and representatives from various government entities. The panelists spoke about the progress made and challenges remaining in the presidential administration's five-year campaign against homelessness among veterans.

The panelists included representatives from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, National League of Cities, U.S. Vets, Community Solutions, Housing Assistance Council, the Home Depot Foundation and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV).

John Driscoll, president and CEO of NCHV, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that the Legion has collaborated with for several years, called the arbitrary five-year deadline in the campaign against veteran homelessness a "benchmark" figure. Driscoll quoted a number of statistics that support his contention that what was once a "pipe dream" is becoming a reality. He noted, for instance, not only a significant reduction in the number of unsheltered veterans on the streets at night but the fact that housing for the homeless was "ten times what it was" when the campaign began.

"We are (also) going from a mission of rescue to prevention with employment and income security being key," he said.

Driscoll lauded the Department of Labor and the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, for their efforts in ending veterans homelessness. He also praised The American Legion, saying that the organization has "the strongest voice in communities nationwide. You represent the heart of our communities."

Driscoll and the other panelists emphasized throughout the roundtable discussion that while the government is an important player in the campaign to end veterans homelessness, it is equally important for organizations and individuals at the community level to "make sure that no veteran will ever again have to sleep on the street."