Veterans Affairs wants to try a new tact at reducing veteran homelessness and homeless veteran advocates aren’t buying the change one damned bit–but it could be a good decision.
On a December 1 call that was set up by VA Secretary David J. Shulkin’s Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans, the VA said that it was going to end a very effective program that has significantly reduced veteran homelessness. First reported in Politico, the VA said it was ending a $460 million National program and will let local VA Medical Centers use the funds as long as they can prove they are using it to deal with homelessness.
Quoted in the Politico article, VA Press Secretary Curtis Cashour said, “VA has a responsibility to ensure resources go where they best align with veteran’s needs. This move gives control and management of resources to local VA facilities, [which] know their communities and the veterans they serve better than anyone else.”
Look at it this way: when the hurricane was heading towards Texas and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, it was local staff who knew where the homeless veterans were in the area. Staff at VA’s Central Office (VACO) in Washington, DC wouldn’t know where to find these veterans.
The original program has been working really well, and has been very popular with veteran homeless advocates. The VA released a statement from Shulkin last night, backtracking a bit after it had been reported that the money was being pulled from the homeless program to be put into the agency’s Choice program. “There will be absolutely no changes in the funding to support our homeless programs,” Shulkin said in the statement. “We will not be shifting any homeless program money to the Choice program.”
Timing for the announcement of the change could have been handled better. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its annual survey yesterday and it showed a 1.5 percent increase in veteran homelessness. The first increase of this number since 2010. Sen. Patty Murray called the decision “especially callous and perplexing” in light of the new information from HUD.
If the money continues to support homeless veteran initiatives, this could be a good change. If in fact the VA is just shifting money from one program to another, well then, Elisha Haring-Blaine who is a National League of Cities housing official and was on the Dec. 1 call said it best, “I don’t understand why you are pulling the rug out. You’re putting at risk the lives of men and women who’ve served this country.”
Until all of this is sorted out, if you need more information on the VA’s homeless programs, talking to someone at one of the VA’s 31 Community Resource and Referral Centers might be best. Connecting Vets will keep on this subject; this is very much a pay attention to what they do and not what they say kind of thing.