Weekly Columns

Homelessness is a serious problem amongst our nation’s veterans, but through effective programs Washington has been able to help veterans in need in our communities.

In 2014, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) annual survey revealed that the number of homeless veterans had been reduced to less than 50,000 from the nearly 75,000 in 2010. That’s a drop of 33 percent in four years.

Much of this can be attributed to the excellent work that national and local organizations are doing on the ground, in our communities, to work with veterans in need or at risk. Many of these organizations get a portion of their funding from Congressionally authorized programs that have a proven track record of effectiveness.

We’ve seen success with these types of partnerships in Arkansas where organizations like St. Francis House in Little Rock and Seven Hills Homeless Center in Fayetteville have been able help many homeless veterans in need. These partnerships are among our best tools to confront the challenges homeless veterans face in this current economic environment and it is important that we continue the programs that enable them.

Unfortunately, without action, these critical programs that provide outreach and services to homeless veterans and their families will expire on September 30th.

That’s why I am working to ensure these programs can continue to make a difference. Recently, I joined with Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) to introduce legislation that extends successful federal homeless veteran programs for another year.

The Keeping Our Commitment to Ending Veteran Homelessness Act ensures seven Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Labor (DOL) programs would continue to operate for the next fiscal year.

These programs provide essential services that are necessary for homeless veterans to rebuild their lives. Through these programs, VA employees and their partners conduct outreach to identify those in need or at risk and help give them new lives. These programs provide medical and psychological care and treatment; help with rent, utility, moving costs and additional VA benefits; and provide important job training tools and services to veterans. These programs also enable nonprofit organizations and state government agencies to use property as homeless shelters for veterans and their families.

In addition, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and I introduced a bill earlier this year that helps ensure that veterans in need are not cut off from additional services once they find housing.

Currently, if a veteran qualifies for housing under VA’s Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program or the Native American Housing Assistance program, the Department of Veterans Affairs no longer considers them “homeless,” and therefore they would no longer be eligible to receive valuable assistance such as job training under the Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program (HVRP). 

Helping a veteran obtain housing is only one step in the process. They also need training and assistance to help them secure stable employment so that they never again return to being homeless. Our bill aims to end the cycle of homelessness amongst some of our veteran population by eliminating the hurdles they face to getting the affordable housing and job training assistance they earned.

We have made great strides in the effort to end homelessness among our veterans. By passing these two bills, we can continue to build upon that progress.