The number of veterans who are homeless is down 11% from January 2020, the biggest decline in five years, federal officials announced Thursday.
Based on a count conducted of homeless people across America on a single day in January, officials said 33,136 veterans are on the streets or lack stable housing, compared with 37,252 in January 2020.
While the survey, known as a "Point-In-Time" count, or PIT, is not a comprehensive count of all the nation's homeless -- it provides only estimates of those on the streets and in shelters and does not account for those living in hotels or with family or friends -- it indicates that federal efforts to get veterans off the streets and out of encampments are working, officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies said.
"One veteran experiencing homelessness will always be one too many, but the 2022 PIT Count shows that we are making real progress in the fight to end veteran homelessness," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a released statement.
Each year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development requires local organizations to count the number of people experiencing homelessness in their geographic areas. The count includes those in shelters and, every other year, those living on the streets.
The comprehensive count was suspended in 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite its limitations, however, the results of that count showed that the number of veterans living in shelters also declined from the previous year, by 10%.
"Not only did we lower the number of veterans experiencing homelessness, but we made this progress during a global pandemic and economic crisis," said Jeff Olivet, the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, or USICH. "This proves that, even under the most difficult circumstances, we can take care of each other and address homelessness."
With 76,329 veterans considered to be homeless in 2010, President Barack Obama set a five-year goal to find permanent housing for all veterans by 2015. By 2016, the number had dropped by 36%.
With the new count, the number is now down 55% from 2010 -- the result of a renewed focus by the Biden administration, federal officials told reporters Wednesday during a call to discuss the data. In 2021, McDonough teamed with HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to develop a joint strategy for addressing veterans' homelessness.
"VA, HUD and USICH and all our partners in the community took significant action to increase the pace of rehousing veterans from homelessness into permanent housing, to better engage veterans ... underserved veterans who are sleeping on the streets. … We believe the 11% reduction that we've seen is the result of these actions," a HUD spokesman said during the call.
Officials did not release any information on the demographics of homeless veterans nor did they provide any geographic data. That information, along with the count estimate of all homeless individuals in the U.S., is expected to be released by the end of the year.
David Higgins, a spokesman for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, said his group was "pleased to see the return of double-digit" reductions in veteran homelessness but added there is more work to be done.
"Looking deeper, we see that 13,564 veterans experienced unsheltered homelessness, meaning these veterans live in places not meant for human habitation, such as cars, parks, sidewalks, abandoned buildings, and literally on the street, which is clearly unacceptable," Higgins wrote in an email to Military.com.
Earlier this year, the VA set a goal to find permanent housing for 38,000 homeless veterans. As of Sept. 30, it had sheltered 30,914 previously homeless veterans, either at VA facilities or through federal housing voucher programs.
"That's about 81% of our goal, well ahead of where we hoped we'd be right now," McDonough said in a press conference Oct. 25.
Last year, the VA renewed efforts to find permanent housing for veterans in Los Angeles, a city with 10% of the country's entire population of homeless vets. The department unveiled a plan in April to redevelop the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus with an aim to build 1,000 housing units in the next six years, as well as amenities and services for residents.
Higgins said the VA should focus on communities with a large number of veterans living outside of shelters to protect them in areas where poverty and homelessness are increasingly criminalized.
He added that the department also should focus on areas often omitted from the point-in-time counts, such as indigenous communities, rural areas and territories.
"VA should also concentrate on outreach and ensuring veterans are well-served there and in other communities where the PIT count may be challenging, as gaps in national data should never mean that veterans go unserved," Higgins said.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.