WASHINGTON – In March,U.S. Army veteran Anthony Taylor,53,was homeless. But now he feels relieved because he has permanent housing,thanks to a program aimed at homeless veterans.
The Congressional Caucus on Ending Homelessness for Veterans hosted a panel discussion about homeless veterans Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Rep. Judy Biggert,R-Ill.,the caucus co-chair,opened the discussion stating her commitment to protect veterans' benefits.
Taylor told the caucus about how he lost 12 years of his life on the capital's streets.
Taylor served as telecommunication specialist at the U.S. Army base at Stuttgart,Germany,from 1978 to 1981. After an honorable discharge,he worked as a security guard and volunteered at his Presbyterian church.
But from 1991 until 2003,he was in and out of jail for drug possession. Sometimes he stayed in friends' basements and shelters. A sudden infection that caused swelling in his knee led Taylor to have surgery in 2007. That kept him from working,and bills for his treatment meant he could no longer afford to pay for the basement where was living.
He was on the streets until March,when he was admitted to the Housing and Urban Development Housing and Veterans Affairs Supported Housing program,known as HUD-VASH.
From 2008 to 2010 the Congress approved $75 million annually to the HUD-VASH program.
Through this program 30,000 homeless veterans and their families received permanent housing,according to a written statement submitted by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan at a hearing in May.
It took Taylor two years to get into the program. Now he lives in an apartment in Southeast Washington.
“This program may give your house first,and whatever problems you have after,you could deal with it,” Taylor said. He added that some homeless people,veterans or not,were discouraged from applying for assistance programs because of background checks or structured schedules of transitional houses.
For every 10,000 veterans,58 are homeless. That's double the rate in the general population. The latest data show 131,000 veterans were homeless at some point in 2008,down from 250,000 in 2004,according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
President Barack Obama pledged in October 2009 to end homelessness for veterans in five years. The federal government structured that promise into the Opening Doors plan,managed by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
Anthony Love,deputy director of ICH national programs,detailed the plan's five components:
- Expand affordable housing options for veterans by supporting housing programs,providing rental subsidies and increasing housing construction and rehabilitation;
- Provide permanent housing support by offering employment counseling and treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues;
- Increase meaningful and sustainable employment;
- Reduce financial vulnerability among veterans by providing information about programs and benefits to veterans on the verge of homelessness,and
- Transform homeless services and crisis response in communities by focusing on prevention and rapidly providing housing for homeless veterans.
The plan calls for the VA and other federal agencies to collaborate with state,local and private groups,Love said.
Victoria Lyon,executive director of the Jericho Project,a 27-year-old New York nonprofit organization whose mission is to end homelessness at its roots,said of the 45 veterans to whom it provides housing vouchers,more than half are from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 40 percent have families.
“This new wave of veterans coming home is really at risk of homelessness. It's happening really quickly,it's happening to a lot of women and it's happening to families,” Lyon said.
Jericho is building two new residences with 132 apartments. Lyon said 60 percent of the Jericho apartments will go to homeless veterans and 40 percent will go to low-income veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are at risk of homelessness.
Edward Quill,executive director of Volunteers of America in Florida,said his nonprofit group with a presence in 18 Florida cities provides housing,employment and training to 109 homeless veterans. Quill called for more resources for addressing Florida's large homeless veteran population.
“We've still got 17,000 to 20,000 homeless veterans in our streets in Florida. That situation has to change,” Quill said. He said that requires increasing HUD-VASH vouchers and funding transitional houses where veterans could learn skills for getting stable jobs.
As of 2008,California had the most homeless veterans,26,807. Next were New York,9,594,and Texas,9,063. In D.C. 1,447 veterans were in the streets,of a total veteran population of 31,423.