(Photo: REUTERS / Omar Sobhani)
An upcoming report on the rate of homelessness among U.S veterans is projected to reveal that although the rate is dropping, more needs to be done to provide support for America's servicemen and women.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told The Associated Press that the number of homeless veterans has dropped by 15,000 since 2009, which is the result of an aggressive strategy that both takes veterans off the streets and prevents new ones from reaching such a situation. Three years ago, there were an estimated 75,609 homeless vets out of 22 million, which means that 14 percent of the U.S. homeless population is made up of war veterans.
"I learned long ago that there are never any absolutes in life, and a goal of zero homeless veterans sure sounds like an absolute," Shinseki said in Nov. 2009. "But unless we set ambitious targets for ourselves, we would not be giving this our very best efforts."
Although Shinseki, a former four-star general, said that the administration is still on target to meet the goal of ending homelessness among veterans by 2015, other officials have said that a lot more needs to be done if such an ambitious goal is to be met.
"It's baloney to say it will end in 2015," said Bob McElroy of the Alpha Project, which has helped the homeless in San Diego for decades. "This needs to be a priority for decades to come."
Officials have said that a new strategy needs to be implemented to help more veterans, but that will require billions more in federal money, as well as more improvements and long-term commitment to programs addressing root causes that lead to homelessness – such as mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment, and poverty.
Steve Berg of the National Alliance to End Homelessness remained hopeful, however, that an upward trend can happen and that veterans leaving the streets would show that the nation's larger homeless problem, which is bigger now than in the 1970s, could be solved.
The Associated Press identified "rare bipartisanship in Washington" as part of the reason why the homeless rate among vets has dropped in the past few years, as the administration reportedly has done "everything possible" to provide more opportunities and support for the servicemen and women.
"We can all agree that money spent in that effort has been money well spent," said GOP Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. The budget for addressing the problem has grown from $3.6 billion in 2010 to a proposed $5.8 billion in 2013, while Congress has raised annual budgets for Veteran Affairs every year since the initiative was announced.
"If unemployment dropped by 2 percentage points, we'd all be crowing about that," concluded Gary Shaheen of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. "Is there dramatic change? I think there is. Is it sufficient? No. I think that we're laying the groundwork."