Ending veteran homelessness requires better leadership 

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A homeless man bundled in blankets sits on top of a subway grate for warmth in New York City. Jan. 7
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released the latest report on homeless veterans. It wasn’t pretty. HUD found that the number of veterans living on the streets was on the rise from January 2016 to January 2017. This period was the first reported increase in seven years.  
Around the same time, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin announced plans to gut funding to a $460-million program aimed at ending veteran homelessness. The move followed controversial remarks from Shulkin in which the Secretary claimed is was not practical to aim for zero homeless veterans. 
{mosads}Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were quick to voice their disapproval. Sec. Shulkin responded to this outrage by reversing his decision, saying that there would be “absolutely no change” in funding for the homeless program. 
That’s a wise move, Sec. Shulkin. Taking our veterans off the streets will require vocal support and resources from both sides of the aisle. Such a commitment starts with strong leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs. 
No fewer than 40,056 veterans were homeless across the country as of January of this year, according to the HUD report. That number has jumped by about 600 veterans — or 1.5 percent — from the same period last year. 
The increase in veterans on the streets is particularly concerning when considering improvements made in previous years. During the Obama administration, HUD reported a drastic decrease in homeless vets. In fact, from 2010 to 2016, the estimated number of homeless veterans dropped from 74,000 people to less than 40,000 — a nearly 46 percent decline. 
Veterans can thank the Obama administration for this reduction. In 2010, the former President made a goal to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.  
To supplement his effort, the Obama administration and the VA, headed by Robert A. McDonald — pushed for additional funding for non-profit groups that support veterans through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program. The SSVF program aimed to prevent veteran homelessness in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. Funding would go towards helping veterans whose incomes sat below “30 percent of the area median income.” 
Despite their best efforts, former President Obama and McDonald did not achieve their goal of ending veteran homelessness. Still, their firm commitment towards the cause — demonstrated through spoken leadership and actions — were instrumental in improving the lives of vets nationwide. 
McDonald articulated this point quite well this January when he said, “No one who fought for this country should sleep on the streets. Period. So we got to work, and […] we’ve forged powerful partnerships among federal, state, and local agencies and nongovernmental organizations. As a result, we’ve cut veteran homelessness nearly in half.” 
More importantly, then-Sec. McDonald was a model leader in showing how the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs should be a hopeful voice of support for our nation’s veterans. Anything less is unacceptable. 
Shulkin’s wavering commitment towards taking veterans off our streets is concerning. Even worse, his tangible efforts to cut funding and programs geared towards supporting homeless veterans is disgraceful — and deserves some serious scorn from Democrats and Republicans alike. 
Jacy Gomez, a former congressional staffer for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is a communications specialist in Washington, D.C. The opinions expressed above are entirely her own.
Tags Chuck Grassley David Shulkin economy Homeless veterans in the United States Homelessness Homelessness in the United States Housing Humanitarian aid Poverty Robert A. McDonald Socioeconomics Structure United States Veteran

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