All in on ending Veteran homelessness: We stand together


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by Secretary Bob McDonald, Secretary Tom Perez, Secretary Julián Castro and Matthew Doherty

Five years ago, the Obama administration set an ambitious goal: to end homelessness among Veterans by the end of 2015. Many scoffed; many continue to scoff. In the face of such skepticism, we remain optimistic and focused, and know this is an historic opportunity we must seize. Veteran homelessness is not a reality we have to accept.

On Monday, the four of us took this message on the road in a three-city swing to connect with communities committed to ending Veteran homelessness. In Houston, we joined Mayor Annise Parker at a rally celebrating the creation of a system in her community which ensures that all Veterans who need assistance will be quickly linked to the supportive services and permanent housing. The progress made in places like Houston, New Orleans and Salt Lake City inspires us and provides models and strategies – like “Housing First” – for every community in the nation.

What we have been able to achieve in partnership with each other – joining forces with state and local governments, the business community and nonprofits – is nothing short of amazing. In fact, between the 2010 rollout of Opening Doors – the first-ever federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness – and the January 2014 point-in-time homeless count, homelessness among Veterans nationwide has been slashed by one-third. This progress is a testament to what our nation can do when we set the bar high, invest resources and effort, and refuse to scale back our vision. It’s unacceptable that men and women who wore the uniform are returning without a safe, stable place to call home.

Now, it’s important to understand this doesn’t mean that no Veteran will ever face a housing crisis in the future. But it does mean that communities like Houston, New Orleans and Salt Lake City are leading the way in building systems that will prevent and address homelessness whenever possible.

After leaving Houston we traveled to Tucson, where we continued to be inspired by the stories of selfless patriots who’ve used their grit and resilience to weather tough times and get back on their feet.

We met Veterans like Genevieve Yordani, a single mother who only a few months ago found herself homeless and with no job prospects. She was referred to the Sullivan Jackson Employment Center, one of 2,500 American Job Centers and one that uniquely serves homeless individuals, where she accessed short-term housing assistance, completed a skills training program and enrolled in Pima Community College. As Genevieve noted, the services she received weren’t handouts; they were a hand-up to help her turn her life around. They tapped into the tremendous skills and strengths that Genevieve brought to her service; qualities that she shares with every other Veteran.

Mayor's Challenge to End Homelessness

Secretary McDonald signs the Mayor’s Challenge to End Veterans’ Homelessness in Las Vegas, Nev.

By traveling together and listening to the struggles and aspirations of our Veterans, we sought to reinforce the spirit of collaboration and interagency partnership that has taken us this far. Veterans experiencing homelessness need seamless, integrated services – such as job training, health interventions, and housing – that none of us can provide on our own. So we’re in the business of “stovepipe implosion” – working together across departments to support our Veterans to the best of our abilities. We’re not just “all in”; we’re all on the same page, too.

Federal resources are essential – but this historic effort draws its strength from local leadership. The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, launched by First Lady Michelle Obama a year ago this week, has proven to be a game-changer. More than 600 local elected leaders have signed on to take action, which includes working with local Veterans Affairs offices to identify gaps in resources and driving the efforts to fill those gaps. We commend the five Southern Nevada mayors who took up that challenge with us in Las Vegas this week, and we’re confident that their efforts will be successful. We also spoke on our tour with representatives of service organizations, who bring passion and resolve to this work each and every day.

There were also people like Cliff Wade, a formerly homeless Veteran turned advocate. After getting out of the Army, Cliff found himself without a job, without a home of his own, and without much hope. He had been incarcerated as well. But at Tucson’s Sullivan Jackson Center, he found services that helped him go back to school and gave him a new purpose in life – helping other Veterans. Cliff now works to help Veterans find housing and connect them with the skills and training they need to find a job.

“My story is evidence that our efforts to end veteran homelessness can work,” Cliff says. “Today, I am a taxpayer who makes too much money to qualify for the services that got me off the street … who has a bachelor’s degree with honors in engineering. And every day, I’m lucky to have a job changing the lives of Veterans like me.”

We’re with Cliff; we all know how lucky we are to serve America’s Veterans. And we all know that ending Veteran homeless is not just an historic opportunity – it’s a national obligation.


Secretary Bob McDonald is the Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Secretary Tom Perez is the Secretary of Labor, Secretary Julián Castro is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Matthew Doherty is the Executive Director of United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Author

Bob McDonald

Bob McDonald was the eighth Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Comments

  1. Demetrius Corteze Bean    

    I really wish I’d had the opportunity to meet and explain to Sec. McDonald how I, and other Veterans here in Tucson are scuffling from month to month to make ends meet, how we are constantly reaching out for assistance with paying our rent, utilities, and or buying food for ourselves and our families. How the local community college decided to forgo paying us our school stipends for almost three months, causing some of my classmates to become homeless, loose vehicles to repo, and more importantly drop out of school.

    I would tell him my story of how I made a comfortable living for my family and I, how after one knee surgery my life got turned upside down. How before the surgery I was struggling, then post the surgery I could barely walk, how I met with my employer with the threat of termination because I was unable to perform my job and continued to take time away from working hours for VA appointments. How for five months I went back and forth to the VA ref my leg, both of them. How for five months I was not able to secure employment, and once I did, post a year I was right back in the same situation, this time with my supervisor mentioning my absence from work due to frequent medical appointments, on my evaluation. How again I eventually left this job, and with the advice of the wonderful folks in Vocational Rehab, I was given an opportunity to learn a job that would not conflict with my disabilities. How it was going smoothly, till the financial pressure mounted up, the pain continued, the swelling continued, problems with fatiguing easily, and becoming short of breath continues and finally a second surgery was done, and in less than a month later, I was separated, and ended up homeless.

    How the VA’s homelessness program helped me, How due to my claim for my bilateral legs one secondary to and injury on the other has been denied, yet I have now had four knee scopes, and at the age of 49, I am now looking at bilateral knee replacements. How I sought work, and was told to come back when my medical issues are resolved. And how I now have to struggle with dealing with walking on my knees that now look like melons post short term use whether I am standing, sitting, or walking.

    How being in voc rehab, I don’t have know that I have the 12 weeks of downtime for knee replacements, as the one knee that is currently worst than the other is tied up in appeals and my only option is to do both, as if I am not in school, then I don’t receive my stipend, if I have the surgery on the leg that is worst, I, due to that leg being denied, and now in appeals, would have no money to pay rent etc. How I would end up homeless again.

    How I am facing an eviction at this current time as I don’t have the funds to cover my rent. How this is just so tiring, as I have one side of the house, Voc Rehab rooting for me, as I near completion of one part of my program, even the VA hospital trying to help. BUT… The claims and benefit side is failing me, and really making me feel more distant to the VA system in general.

    How, the benefits side arranged for the medical evals, and when the doctors either agreed, or felt that it was More than likely, than Less than likely that some of the problems stemmed from military service, the Reviewers felt differently and denied it. How my Ortho doctor felt that I should not work, as time would be needed to arrange appointments, and plan for another surgery, that I should request temporary 100% assistance, it to was denied, even though it has now been 10 months, as predicted my the VA ortho MD, I am still being dragged along the benefits side of the house, while I now sit and wait on my Ortho MD to talk with me on a way to have surgery and not miss school. Again, because “I aint gettin jack” from the benefits side of the house that would support me, and take some of the stress of rent, utilities etc off me and my now two kids, if I go with having the worst knee, that is in appeals, done first, as suggested.

    How I’m trying to do the right thing, but can’t wait 3-4 years for them to decide on my claim, “That even the VA medical review MD said, they are gonna give you the run around on this one, but they will eventually have to give it to you, as it does exist…all of it!” and though depressing, his words thus far have come true.
    How depressing it is, how stressful it is, how one like myself would feel I’m better off in a grave, and struggle with that thought from day to day, and day to day. I would ask him what plans are in the system for veterans whom are trying to do better, but the VA bureaucracy keep putting us in a loop hole. This is what I would have said and asked, not angrily, just desperately.

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