Efforts by Congress, administration are needed to make veteran homelessness a relic of the past
For most, Veterans Day is a time where the country pauses to reflect upon and honor the service of those who were in the military. But what is Veterans Day to a veteran experiencing or at-risk of homelessness amidst a pandemic that has killed over 235,000 Americans, including over 4,200 veterans? Our collective thanks as a grateful nation does very little to help them meet basic survival needs. As a country, we can do better.
Over 37,000 veterans were homeless on any given night before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and pandemic-related uncertainty continues to plague veterans experiencing and at risk of homelessness. One of the best ways we can honor this group of veterans is by doing our utmost to support their access to housing in the final months of this year and beyond.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread unemployment and a wave of homelessness is anticipated due to the complexities of enforcing the CDC eviction moratorium. The road to recovery will be a long one for veterans facing housing instability caused by the impacts of the pandemic. Avoiding an increase in veteran homelessness will require significant investment in programs to serve homeless veterans, affordable housing, and long-term solutions such as employment and homelessness prevention services. The effort will also require coordination here in Washington, D.C., so communities across the country are enabled with the tools they need to serve these veterans.
Congress must do more to ensure there are veteran-centric services available for veterans facing housing instability by securing Senate passage of H.R. 7105, the bipartisan “DELIVER Act” prior to adjourning. Doing so would expand program eligibility, expand allowable uses of funds to meet the needs of unsheltered veterans, expand access to legal assistance that could be critical in an eviction crisis, and would make key changes to VA-funded shelter programs to allow them to operate more safely as they reduce admissions and modify operations. In short, it allows the communities to use those funds more effectively with what we now know taken into consideration. Organizations in communities across the country have continued to serve veterans on the front lines, even as the pandemic has peaked in their communities but they need the enactment of these provisions in order to keep veterans in their care safe, and to more efficiently aid them in accessing permanent housing.
There is a nationwide shortage of affordable housing. Supportive housing is one of the most effective ways to end homelessness while bridging the gap between income and the availability of affordable housing in any community. Congress has appropriated consistent funding increases to HUD for additional HUD-VASH vouchers for this purpose. Yet VA has not received commensurate funding increases to administer the supportive services for the new vouchers funded in this highly successful interagency program. The outgoing administration would be wise to allow funding appropriated in the most recent coronavirus aid package to be used to bridge this gap, so veterans can use these vouchers. The incoming administration must also commit to advocating for symmetrical growth in this key program. These two changes alone have the potential to release supportive housing resources for thousands of housing unstable veterans that have not yet been distributed, when they are needed most. We know the safest spaces for anyone during this pandemic are indoor spaces allowing for social distancing and isolation. We must pursue these opportunities relentlessly, as though veterans’ lives depend upon them, for they do.
Making veteran homelessness a relic of the past in communities across the country will require dedicated efforts from Congress, the current and incoming Administrations, and organizations across the country. Every veteran deserves safe, stable housing on Veterans Day and every day.
Kathryn Monet is CEO of National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.