Communities that have helped veterans get off the streets and into housing are dropping a critical assistance program because of sequester cuts, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development said Wednesday.
Secretary Shaun Donovan said HUD has seen a number of public housing authorities across the U.S. "turn back the keys … to their voucher programs entirely. We've seen about a dozen agencies specifically refuse to administer VASH vouchers."
"There's a perception that there's no effect of sequestration on veterans programs because programs that were set aside specifically for veterans are protected," Donovan told reporters during a roundtable following a speech before the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in Washington, DC.
Because the vouchers are already funded using VA money, they may still be used. The VA and HUD will reallocate them to communities able to utilize them notwithstanding funding cuts, Donovan said. But homeless vets in those cities dropping the vouchers are the ones losing out, he said.
"The problem is housing authorities who work with VA medical centers on the VASH [Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing] program, in order to hire staff and to run their programs, they depend on the regular funding they get … and those have been cut to the lowest level on record," Donovan said.
For the U.S. to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, the target date set by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in 2009, the nation would have to find housing for 60 veterans a day every day for the next 1,000 days, according to Donovan.
Even as some housing authorities are giving up on the special veterans housing vouchers, HUD and the VA are continuing to fund and allocate them.
"Think about that – housing agencies set up to help needy people," Donovan said. "There's no example of a better cause than helping a veteran to get housed, and yet these agencies are refusing to take these new vouchers. So that is a real concern, and one of the many reasons we need to see the sequester reversed."
Donovan, along with Shinseki, announced on Wednesday before the National Coalition for Veteran Homelessness in Washington that $60 million in HUD-VASH funds would be made available to local housing authorities to help get veterans off the streets and into permanent housing. Another $15 million in vouchers will be made available later in the year.
The HUD-VASH vouchers have been allocated to local housing authorities since 2008. In 2009 about 1,500 veterans had found permanent housing through the program. That number as of 2012 was more than 42,000, Shinseki said in his remarks before the coalition on Wednesday.
Veteran homelessness dropped by just over 17 percent between 2009 and 2012, he said.
"We just conducted another head count [of homeless veterans] in January 2013," he said. "And when those numbers are tallied, I am confident it will show another decline in the count. But whatever the number is or will be, it won't be good enough … So long as a single veteran lives on our streets we have work to do."