New VA initiative helped house more than 40K vets last year

Veterans Affairs staffers helped move more than 40,000 veterans into permanent housing last year, surpassing their goal and establishing new pathways to help individuals in need, officials announced today.

Eleven months ago, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced plans to place 38,000 veterans facing significant financial hardship and housing problems into stable, permanent shelter by the end of 2022. Department officials said they reached 40,401 by Dec. 31.

“There are thousands of formerly homeless veterans who are going to sleep tonight in good, safe, stable homes — and there’s nothing more important than that,” McDonough said in a statement.

“This is great progress, but it’s just the beginning. We at VA will not rest until the phrase ‘homeless veteran’ is a thing of the past.”

The number of homeless vets dropped sharply over the last two years

Last year, federal officials announced the number of homeless veterans across the country on any given night dropped sharply in recent years, from about 37,000 in January 2020 to around 33,000 in January 2022.

The figures come from the annual Point-In-Time count held each January. They represent a snapshot of the current housing problem among veterans but not an exhaustive list of all individuals who will experience homelessness over the course of a year. The 2023 PIT count is taking place this week.

McDonough joined a group of VA staffers and volunteers last night assisting in the rainy weather with Washington, D.C.’s PIT count.

“It’s really important for us to come out to make sure that we’re counting exactly what we see so we know what we’re up against,” he told Military Times.

Since 2010 — when President Barack Obama announced a federal focus on ending veterans homelessness — the number of homeless veterans recorded in the annual count has dropped by more than 55% (from 76,329). However, from 2016 to 2020, improvement in the numbers was largely flat, falling only about 6% over the four-year span.

Officials said lessons learned in last year’s amplified outreach efforts will help them provide more housing services in years to come.

“One of the other things that we learned through this process was the importance of making sure that folks had access to the data that they needed,” said Jill Albanese, director of business operations for VA’s Homeless Programs Office.

“We took some time to make sure that all of the medical centers and all of our community providers had access to really good data [on struggling veterans] and that it was useful to them. We also provided some very focused technical assistance, asking experts in the field to provide on-site services. So, we absolutely can replicate this again.”

Advocates for homeless vets face next big challenge: inflation

Of the 40,000 housing placements, 1,301 were veterans experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. Officials said that was short of local officials’ goal for the year, but still the most of any single city.

Officials from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans praised VA’s efforts last year as helping to jump-start partnerships with community groups toward the goal of helping more veterans.

“We look forward to seeing continued progress on aggressive housing goals … and the application of lessons learned in all communities,” Kathryn Monet, CEO of the group, said in a statement.

White House officials have announced a nationwide goal of reducing homelessness among all Americans by 25% in the next two years.

Military Times staff reporter Jonathan Lehrfeld contributed reporting to this article.