VA Makes Pitch for More Money to Counter 7.4% Rise in Homeless Veterans Living on the Streets or in Shelters

A medic checks the blood pressure of a veteran
A medic from the 134th Ambulance Company out of Johnston, Iowa, checks the blood pressure of a veteran at the Five Seasons Stand Down in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on September 7, 2023. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Everett)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has plans for major funding increases to counter a sharp and unexpected 7.4% rise in veteran homelessness, plans that are dependent on how much money a divided Congress will approve for next year's VA budget.

In a release last Friday, the VA announced its intention to devote "hundreds of millions" to assist veterans sleeping in shelters or living on the streets and other places "not fit for human habitation."

The VA's announcement followed on the release last week by the Department of Housing and Urban Development of its annual Point in Time survey that estimates America's homeless populations based on a single night's count in shelters nationally. The overall number of homeless Americans shot up by a record 12% from January 2022 to January 2023 to a total of more than 650,000, the agency reported.

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Included in the overall number of 650,000 were about 35,570 veterans without permanent housing, a 7.4% increase over 2022. An estimated 15,500 of those veterans are categorized by the VA and HUD as "unsheltered" -- living in cars, parks, abandoned buildings and on the street -- an increase of 14.3% from 2022.

"Homelessness is solvable," HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a statement, and the data showing the increase in homelessness "underscores the urgent need for support for proven solutions and strategies that help people quickly exit homelessness and that prevent homelessness in the first place."

With funding approval from Congress, the VA would boost spending for Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Grants to organizations nationwide that help veterans and their families in danger of losing their homes, or assist them in finding more suitable housing. The VA also plans to award more than $26 million to organizations that assist veterans with legal representation in eviction cases and for their defense in criminal cases related to homelessness.

The proposed new grants are critical components in the VA's efforts "to provide more housing and wraparound services to more homeless and at-risk veterans than ever before," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. "Together, we will not rest until veteran homelessness is a thing of the past."

The rise in veteran homelessness appeared to be unexpected for the VA, which reported in November that department programs had exceeded its goal of housing 38,000 homeless veterans in 2023. But the bottom line is that "more veterans needed homeless assistance resources than the existing capacity could help," the VA said in a statement.

The rise in veteran homelessness is attributable to rising rents nationwide, the renewal of eviction proceedings that were put on hold during the COVID pandemic, and the overall lack of low-cost housing, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. The increases in veterans without housing "reflect what many have long known -- we are facing a crisis of housing affordability," the coalition said in a statement.

Related: VA Has Already Exceeded Its Annual Goal for Housing Homeless Veterans with 2 Months Left in the Year

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