The department has not yet set a new benchmark for how many veterans it will find homes for in 2023, officials told reporters in a briefing Wednesday. But it is taking a victory lap on exceeding its 2022 goal and expressing confidence that it is making progress in the fight against veteran homelessness.
"There are thousands of formerly homeless veterans who are going to sleep tonight in good, safe, stable homes -- and there's nothing more important than that," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. "This is great progress, but it's just the beginning: We at VA will not rest until the phrase 'homeless veteran' is a thing of the past."
McDonough announced last year's 38,000 goal in February as he visited the VA's West Los Angeles campus, outside of which dozens of homeless veterans had set up an encampment known as "Veterans Row."
The goal represented a nearly 5% increase over the department's number of permanent housing placements in fiscal 2021.
McDonough also set a goal specifically for the greater Los Angeles area of housing 1,500 homeless veterans. The department fell short of the LA goal, finding permanent housing for 1,301 veterans in 2022.
Veteran homelessness has declined roughly 55% nationally since 2010, when then-President Barack Obama set a five-year goal to find permanent housing for all homeless veterans.
The most recent "Point-In-Time," or PIT, survey released in November estimated about 33,136 veterans were living on the streets or lacked stable housing, down 11% from January 2020. The estimate is based on a count conducted by volunteers on a single day in January and is not considered a full accounting of all the nation's homeless since it does not include those living in hotels or temporarily staying with family or friends, though the PIT is still the primary source of nationwide data on homelessness. The last several years have also seen potential disruptions to the data, given differing policies at shelters surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
In pursuit of its 38,000 goal last year, the VA used an "all hands on deck approach" that included financial assistance through Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers and the VA's Supportive Services for Veteran Families rapid rehousing program, Jill Albanese, director of business operations for the Veterans Health Administration Homeless Programs Office, told reporters. The department's transitional housing program and a "huge effort to do additional outreach" also played a role, she added.
Albanese and Monica Diaz, executive director of the Homeless Programs Office, both expressed confidence that last year's efforts to house thousands of homeless veterans can be replicated in future years, but said VA leadership is still discussing what this year's goal will be as it processes the results from 2022.
The officials also said they will continue to stay engaged with the newly housed veterans to ensure they do not fall back into homelessness and vowed not to give up on finding homes for more difficult cases, such as those who might initially rebuff help.
"We're going to be relentless," Diaz said. "We're going to keep going and re-engage and re-engage and re-engage. And it might be that that veteran is not ready for housing in that year. But next year, they will. Maybe the following year. Our goal is not to stop just with one 'no.'"
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.