Veterans Affairs officials are behind schedule on their goal of placing 38,000 veterans in permanent housing this year, and the coronavirus is once again to blame.
In remarks to the annual conference of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans on Friday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the department remains committed to the goal, first announced earlier this year. as a way to reinvigorate outreach efforts for homeless veterans after the national pandemic.
“We should be a third of that target now, but I think we’re at around 29 per cent,” he said. “So we are late. I was worried about this as we knew from the start that we might fall behind as January was a tough month with the Omicron [variant of Covid-19].”
Covid-19 cases rose across America in the first few months of 2022. Veterans Affairs officials have seen daily active cases in the medical system drop from around 10,000 in mid-December to nearly 78,000 in mid-January.
Housing advocates at this week’s conference noted that two years of pandemic restrictions have had a significant impact on their operations, but many hope that significant gains can be made to help homeless veterans as these challenges are fading.
And McDonough said he was also optimistic, though he noted that reaching more veterans will take the dedication of his department and community partners.
“By putting 38,000 veterans into permanent housing, we’re not just going to try to do that,” he told a crowd of several hundred defenders. “We’re not going to set process goals to help us get there. With your help, this year we will…
“We cannot prevent veteran homelessness in this precarious economy without you, because this fight against veteran homelessness takes us all across the country.
McDonough said his remarks on the economy referenced inflation and rising housing costs, two other challenges conference attendees have been discussing in recent days.
In 2020 — the last year a full count was made by federal officials — the estimated number of homeless veterans was around 37,200, down about 6% from the previous year.
Authorities have seen a 10% drop in the number of veterans using emergency shelter services from 2020 to 2021, but it is unclear to what extent this is due to their improved housing situation or to concerns about the use of public facilities amid coronavirus outbreaks.
McDonough said not all veterans hoping to help this year are currently without stable housing.
In some cases, people currently living in transitional settlements will benefit from the moves. In other cases, advocates will provide assistance to people before they become homeless.
“We have pretty good data to know who is at risk of becoming homeless and can reach them,” McDonough said.
McDonough added that he expects an update from senior executives on progress toward the 38,000 people goal in the coming weeks.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.