The Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to permanently house 38,000 unsheltered veterans this year, with a goal to ensure that 95% of them remain in those apartments or homes instead of returning to the streets.
The target for 2023 is the same as the department's 2022 goal, which it exceeded by 6%, housing 40,401 homeless veterans. VA officials said Tuesday they did not increase the target as a result of last year's numbers. But, they added, they also wanted to ensure that veterans who receive permanent housing stay in those homes.
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According to Monica Diaz, executive director of the Veterans Health Administration's Homeless Program Office, 2,443 or 6% of the veterans who were able to find housing last year returned to being homeless at some point in the year. The VA was able to rehouse all but 342 by the end of the year.
This year, the goal is to ensure that at least 95% do not return to being homeless and that 90% of those who do are on a path to be housed by the end of the year.
"We wanted to have a very ambitious goal when it came to the efforts of making sure not only that veterans were going to be placed into housing but that we were going to keep them housed," Diaz said during a roundtable with reporters Tuesday. "Also, we added in additional efforts doing more in outreach to the unsheltered veterans, which we didn't have last year."
VA officials said there are several risk factors and reasons why veterans may end up homeless after being placed in a permanent apartment or house, including a previous history of homelessness, financial hardship, mental health conditions or run-ins with the law.
Diaz said that ensuring that housed veterans have the support they need to remain in a stable environment "requires a lot of significant effort."
"Our engagement has to be recurring and consistent but, at the same time, it has to specifically meet the needs of that particular veteran," Diaz said.
In addition to the housing goals, the VA plans to engage with at least 28,000 veterans living on the streets to help them get housing and services, including health care and benefits. The unsheltered veterans, who don't sleep under any type of roof each night, be it a homeless shelter, temporary housing or a friend's couch, are particularly vulnerable.
That goal is 10% higher than last year, according to the VA.
"Because the negative health impacts of unsheltered homelessness are so detrimental to veterans' well-being, in 2023, VA is committed to outreach and to engage with [these] veterans to help them obtain housing and other services," Diaz said.
The VA also has set a goal specifically for the greater Los Angeles area to provide permanent housing to 1,500 homeless veterans -- the same number as last year, even though it missed that goal by 299 veterans in 2022.
It also has plans to reach 1,888 unsheltered veterans in LA to help them access services and obtain housing.
Los Angeles is a particular focus area because of the large number of veterans now living in shelters placed last year at the West Los Angeles VA campus and in tents around the city, roughly 10% of the country's total homeless veteran population.
The VA has a plan that calls for constructing roughly 1,000 housing units on the campus in the next six years, with the intention eventually to have 1,200.
According to a "Point-In-Time," or PIT survey, conducted in January 2022, an estimated 33,136 veterans live on the streets or in homeless shelters in the U.S., down 11% from the previous year.
The PIT number is an estimate based on a count conducted by volunteers on one day and is not considered a complete accounting of the nation's homeless population, as it does not include those living in hotels or staying with family and friends.
It has also been a challenge throughout the pandemic to get an accurate measure of homelessness in America as a result of canceled PIT surveys and disruption of services at homeless shelters.
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.
Diaz said the goal is to "end veteran homelessness," but that doesn't necessarily mean they have a target date to achieve "functional zero."
Eighty-three communities, which include cities like New Orleans and Houston, have "ended" veterans homelessness because they have programs in place to ensure that no veteran has to live on the streets.
"We [achieve that] by saying that the community has a system to address homelessness in that community, not by having a zero number, but by having a system in their community where there is an agile response in place that prevents veterans homelessness," Diaz said.
The VA's fiscal budget proposal calls for $3.1 billion for programs to house veterans and provide them services, including health care and benefits.
In a press release, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the department is making "real progress" in ending veteran homelessness.
"We will not rest until every veteran has a safe, stable place to call home in this country they fought to defend," McDonough said in the statement.
The VA has a National Call Center for Homeless Veterans facing eviction or struggling with homelessness: 877-424-3838.
– Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime