This is a critical moment in the fight to end veteran homelessness. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a large swath of the country to its knees, and veterans are no exception. We know that the Black community has fought to thrive through the dual public health crises of COVID-19, and systemic racism, which have disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, and people of color. There are two things every day Americans can do to help serve veterans experiencing homelessness.
First, there is a little-known federal agency called the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH,) charged with coordinating the federal response to homelessness. The government is the largest funder of homeless assistance, and the USICH strategic plan impacts the priorities that are funded.
Their focus on veterans and USICH’s creation of benchmarks and criteria for communities ending homelessness have led to a fifty percent decrease in veteran homelessness in the last decade. While there has been overall progress, Black veterans were 33 percent of the homeless veteran population and only 12 percent of the overall veteran population in 2019. Furthermore, the population of unsheltered Black veterans increased by four percent between 2018 and 2019. That is unacceptable.
Here are six key factors the government should focus on as the federal plan is revised:
Continuing to focus on ending veteran homelessness and encouraging communities to achieve the federal benchmarks and criteria for ending veteran homelessness;
Continuing to let research drive the assistance provided to homeless veterans and improving upon the assistance system;
Including input from people who are and have been homeless in the planning process so proposed solutions meet their needs;
Focusing on the needs of veterans who are disproportionately impacted, from Black and Indigenous veterans to women, transgendered and LGBTQ veterans;
Understanding systems-based homelessness prevention means understanding and addressing inequities in the justice and military justice systems, the labor and housing markets, and the federal programs and benefits that veterans seek assistance from; and
Increasing investments in affordable housing should be a funding priority in the President’s next Budget Request to Congress.
USICH was accepting public input on their plan through July 11 at [www.usich.gov/].
Second, the COVID epidemic has led to widespread unemployment and a wave of homelessness is anticipated as evictions moratoria lift when communities end their disaster declarations.
The road to recovery will be a long one for veterans, and some economists predict a 40-45 percent increase in homelessness due to the impacts of the pandemic. The House of Representatives recently passed the HEROES Act, which gives VA flexibilities to serve veterans experiencing homelessness. 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. Ask your Senate delegation to support full funding and enactment of provisions from the HEROES Act to serve veterans experiencing homelessness.
Visit [www.nchv.org] to learn more about NCHV.
Contributed by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans