Testimony of the
for Homeless Veterans
United States Senate
Committee on Veterans Affairs
President and CEO
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
S. 1237 – Homeless Women Veterans and
Homeless Veterans With Children Act of 2009
S. 1547 – Zero Tolerance for Veterans Homelessness Act of 2009
October 21, 2009
Chairman Senator Akaka, Ranking Member Senator Burr,
and Distinguished Members of the Committee:
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) is honored to appear before this committee today to comment on what we believe are two of the most important bills in the history of the homeless veteran assistance movement we represent.
For 20 years, NCHV has worked diligently to serve as the nation’s primary liaison between the community- and faith-based organizations that help homeless veterans, the Congress, and the federal agencies that are invested in the campaign to end veteran homelessness in the United States. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials have testified before the Congress that this partnership, despite considerable financial pressures due to war and economic uncertainty, is largely responsible for the phenomenal reduction in the number of homeless veterans on the streets of America each night – from about 250,000 in FY 2004 to 131,000 today, according to the annual VA Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups (CHALENG) Reports.
The VA and U.S. Department of Labor, through some of the most innovative and successful grant programs in the federal arsenal, have jointly nourished a nationwide, community-based homeless veteran assistance network that provides transitional housing and services support for more than 100,000 veterans each year. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has become the third critical partner in this campaign through the HUD-VA Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH) for veterans with serious mental illness and other disabilities, and by incentivizing the inclusion of homeless and extreme low-income veterans in local Continuum of Care funding applications.
The success of these federal agencies and the community- and faith-based service partners NCHV represents over the last five years offers proof that the campaign to end veteran homelessness can be won. The President has established this as a priority of his Administration; and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is mobilizing his Department to strengthen its intervention programs and expand its support of local prevention strategies.
Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans With Children Act of 2009
One of the most daunting challenges in the campaign to end veteran homelessness is presented by the changes in the demographics of this special needs population. For the first time in American history, women comprise more than 11% of the forces deployed to serve in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Department of Defense (DoD) figures early this year, including more than 30,000 single women with dependent children (DoD, March 2009). The VA anticipates women will account for 15% of the nation’s veterans within the next 10 years.
Because of the nation’s reliance on Reserve and National Guard personnel, men and women must leave their families at the highest rate since World War II – approximately half of them for multiple deployments. This places considerable strain on family relationships, which in turn makes the difficult process of readjustment to civilian life after wartime service even more stressful.
Currently more than 5% of veterans requesting assistance from VA and community-based homeless veteran service providers are women. According to VA officials, more than half of these veterans are between the ages of 20-29, a majority represent minority communities, and roughly 24% are disabled or were medically retired from the service. More than 10% of these women have dependent children.
Senators Murray, Johnson and Reed, in introducing this bill, recognize the same readjustment difficulties for single women veteran parents are experienced by single male parents. During the last two years, more than 11% of male veterans receiving housing vouchers in the HUD-VASH program are single parents with dependent children.
According to VA data in its annual CHALENG Reports, the highest unmet needs of homeless single veterans with dependent children are:
• Child care assistance
• Legal aid for credit repair and child support issues
• Access to affordable permanent housing
S. 1237 would authorize up to $10 million in grants to community- and faith-based organizations to provide critical, specialized supports for these deserving men and women as they work their way out of homelessness. There are about 200 homeless veteran assistance providers under the VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD) that offer housing assistance for women veterans. More than 90 community-based programs offer job preparation and placement assistance to homeless veterans under the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program – one of the most efficient, effective programs in the Department of Labor portfolio.
These programs provide irrefutable evidence that stable, safe transitional housing – with access to health and employment services – empowers the great majority of homeless veterans to achieve self-sufficiency within their eligibility limits. The addition of child care assistance promises to enhance those successful outcomes through supports that will enable veteran parents to pursue their employment goals without having to worry about the health and safety of their children.
NCHV believes this funding level would allow for immediate implementation of an employment assistance program for single parents with dependent children within an existing and highly successful service provider community, and allow for evaluation of the effectiveness of this innovative strategy. We strongly urge the Committee to champion this cause in the 111th Congress for the sake of our nation’s veterans in crisis, and for their families.
Zero Tolerance for Veteran Homelessness Act of 2009
For several years the homeless veteran assistance movement NCHV represents has realized there can be no end to veteran homelessness until we, as a nation, develop a strategy to address the needs of our former guardians before they become homeless – victims of health and economic misfortunes they cannot overcome without assistance.
The causes of all homelessness can be grouped into three primary categories: health issues, economic issues, and lack of access to safe, affordable housing for low and extreme-low income families in most American communities. This has been a chronic problem since the birth of the Great Society during the Johnson administration.
The additional stressors veterans experience are prolonged separation from family and social support networks while engaging in extremely stressful training and occupational assignments; war-related illnesses and disabilities – both mental and physical; and the difficulty of many to transfer military occupational skills into the civilian workforce.
NCHV believes the Zero Tolerance for Veteran Homelessness Act of 2009, introduced by Senators Reed, Bond, Murray, Johnson, Kerry and Durbin – with the support of 12 cosponsors – has the potential to set this nation on course to finally achieve victory in the campaign to end veteran homelessness in the United States.
Victory in this campaign requires success on two fronts – effective, economical intervention strategies that help men and women rise above adversity to regain control of their lives; and prevention strategies that empower communities to support our wounded warriors and their families before they lose their ability to cope with stressors beyond their control.
We believe the Zero Tolerance for Veteran Homelessness Act addresses needs on both fronts.
• The Act provides for the expansion of HUD-VASH to a total of 60,000 housing vouchers for veterans with serious mental and emotional illnesses, other disabilities, and extreme low-income veteran families that will need additional services to remain housed. According to an analysis of data by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, about 63,000 veterans can be classified as chronically homeless. This Act would, therefore, effectively end chronic veteran homelessness within the next five years.
• The Act provides authorization for up to $50 million annually to provide supportive services for low-income veterans to reduce their risks of becoming homeless, and to help those who are find housing. Provisions include short- to medium-term rental assistance, poor credit history repair, housing search and relocation assistance, and help with security and utilities deposits. For many among the nation’s 630,000 veterans living in extreme poverty (at or below 50% of the federal poverty level), this aid could mean the difference between achieving stability and continuing on the downward spiral into homelessness.
• The Act would modernize the extremely important and successful VA Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD) to allow for the utilization of innovative project funding strategies – including the use of low-income housing tax credits and matching funds from other government sources to facilitate and hasten project development.
• The Act calls for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to study the method of reimbursing GPD community providers for their program expenses and report to Congress, within one year, his recommendations for revising the payment system. For years service providers have appealed for a system that reflects the actual cost of providing services to veterans with multiple barriers to recovery rather than a “per diem” rate based on reimbursements paid to state veterans’ homes.
• The Act calls for an increase in the annual GPD authorization to $200 million, beginning in FY 2010, which could provide additional funds for outreach through community-based veteran service centers and mobile service vans for rural areas, while continuing to increase the bed capacity of VA’s community-based partners. These outreach initiatives will likely play a pivotal role as the VA’s veteran homelessness prevention strategy moves forward.
• The Act would establish within HUD a Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs to ensure veterans have access to housing and homeless assistance programs funded by the Department.
The homeless veteran assistance movement NCHV represents is now 20 years old, but much of the success we have seen in reducing the number of homeless veterans has been realized in just the last decade. The partnership between the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor and Housing and Urban Development, and our 1,600 community- and faith-based associates has presented this nation with the infrastructure necessary to end veteran homelessness through innovative intervention programs and low-level supports that can serve as the foundation for a nationwide prevention strategy.
Never before in the history of this nation have we been better prepared to support the men and women who serve in harm’s way to preserve our freedom and prosperity. The Zero Tolerance for Veteran Homelessness Act of 2009 represents a historic opportunity to ensure that those who sacrifice some measure of their lives to serve our country will not be abandoned in their greatest hour of need.
We owe the committee a great debt of gratitude for bringing us to this hour and place, where we can focus on prevention far wiser than we were when the campaign to end veteran homelessness began. On behalf of all who serve our nation’s veterans in crisis, we humbly applaud you for bringing us to this moment in history, and express profound appreciation and gratitude for your leadership.
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