The Wall Street Journal: VA Surpasses Goal to House Homeless Veterans

by Ben Kesling

More than 40,000 homeless veterans were placed in permanent housing last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday, exceeding its target in a renewed push to address the longstanding problem of veteran homelessness.

Veterans make up 7% of the general population but represent 13% of the adult homeless population, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Increased funding for housing veterans is part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to address homelessness and affordable-housing issues.

“Basically we reinvigorated the effort and had the message coming from the top down,” said Monica Diaz, executive director of the VA’s Homeless Veteran Program.

There is no definitive count of homeless veterans available, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, but one of the most-cited statistics comes from the Point-in-Time count, an annual snapshot of the unhoused. In 2022, the count tallied just over 33,000 homeless veterans, according to the VA. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

The VA set a goal of housing 38,000 homeless veterans last year and exceeded it with placement of 40,401 veterans, in part because it has refocused on a homelessness-prevention model known as housing first. The priority is to get the unhoused into reliable shelter before addressing other issues such as addiction, mental health or unemployment. 

“While these numbers show the VA is working to get more veterans into safe and stable housing, there is more to be done,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The housing-first model is a key part of the Biden administration’s goal, announced late last year, to reduce overall homelessness in the U.S. by 25% by 2025. 

The number of homeless veterans had been steadily decreasing until 2016, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

In 2017, the VA’s then-Secretary David Shulkin tried to slash funding for programs related to veteran homelessness, part of the Trump administration’s effort to cut funding at a number of agencies. Growth of one of the most successful programs to house homeless veterans, a joint effort with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, slowed during this period.

That program, known by the acronym HUD-VASH, is now receiving renewed attention. It provides housing for veterans and gives them supportive services to prevent them from slipping back into homelessness.

Ms. Diaz and other VA officials said the department’s success in meeting its goal, and the robust services it provides, can be a model for other government organizations. And yet, there remain unhoused veterans.

“If there is even one, I say we need to do more,” said Ms. Diaz.

VA Surpasses Goal to House Homeless Veterans – WSJ