Veteran homelessness has been reduced 33 percent since 2009, but there is still a long way to go before the U.S. reaches “functional zero,” Congressmen and veteran service providers said Thursday in a hearing on Capitol Hill.
In November 2009, President Barack Obama and then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki set the ambitious goal of ending homelessness among veterans “within five years.” Since then, the stated deadline has shifted from the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2015, even as the VA and groups across the country worked to quickly implement Shinseki’s comprehensive plan.
A VA inspector general report released last week shows the effort has not been flawless: The VA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans missed more than 40,000 opportunities to engage with veterans because of calls going to recordings during peak hours.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the findings would be unacceptable for any government program, but is particularly problematic for a population that faces significant challenges just to make a phone call.
The call center is not Miller’s only concern. He questioned the wisdom of having more than 20 programs “designed to get homeless veterans off the streets and provide them with housing, health care and employment assistance,” in addition to similar programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Labor.
But Baylee Crone, executive director for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, said homeless veterans are not homogenous – they have individual needs.