The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs says the country remains on track to end homelessness among military veterans in 2015. He and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters Monday they’ve seen “clear and remarkable” progress in the agencies’ efforts to reduce such homelessness, while acknowledging there’s much more work to do.
Shinseki said his agency next year would triple its spending for community grants intended to prevent or reduce homelessness among veterans and their families. He said the VA will spend $300 million awarding competitive grants under the agency’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, which funds homeless beds in Portland and elsewhere.
Shinseki and Donovan spoke to mark the release of HUD’s 2012 Point-in-Time Estimate of homeless people. The numbers are drawn from an intensive effort to count the homeless on a single night last January.
Overall, the survey showed that overall U.S. homelessness remained roughly constant, with an estimated 633,782 people sleeping outdoors or in a shelter. But the homeless veterans component of that total declined to 62,619, about 7.2 percent lower than in 2011.
Homelessness in Oregon remains a stubborn and significant problem, both among veterans and in the general population, the January 2012 estimate reveals. Overall, about 2.5 percent of the national homeless population are reckoned to be Oregonians — a higher percentage than Nevada, Idaho, Utah and Montana, but better than Washington, which has 3.2 percent of the homeless population, and much better than California, with 20.7 percent of the national total. The estimate found that about 15,828 people were homeless in Oregon on the night of last winter’s count — a drop of 8.3 percent from the year-earlier figure.
Oregon has a higher-than-average percentage — 58.6 percent — of its homeless population on the streets, outside of shelters. That meant it trailed only Wyoming and a few warm-weather states — California, Nevada, Florida, Georgia and Arkansas — in terms of people outdoors.
Oregon had about 1,356 homeless veterans on the night of last winter’s count, also about an 8 percent improvement on the 2011 figure.
One of the drivers in Oregon’s improved numbers for veterans is the Portland VA’s Community Resource and Referral Center in downtown Portland. The center, which opened in April, is one of the nation’s first in a program the VA has rolled out to address homelessness and other problems, such as substance abuse and unemployment.
“It’s amazing how many people fall on hard times,” said Catherine Spofford, program director at the Portland resource center. She said the 204 homeless beds funded under the VA program at the Clark Center, the Salvation Army’s Veterans and Family Center, the Henry Building and elsewhere are always full and have waiting lists.
She said 501 different veterans have sought assistance at the new resource center since it opened and she said it has been knit effectively into partnerships with other nonprofits that provide housing services, including Central City Concern, the Salvation Army, Transition Projects. and the Portland Rescue Mission.
Central City Concern Chief Executive Officer Ed Blackburn cautioned not to read too much into the year-to-year Point-in-Time numbers. But, he said, “we’re seeing the result of several years’ effort on the veterans side.”
“It’s a hopeful first lap here,” he said, adding that additional laps remain to be run.